HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Should We Create a Market for Transplantable Organs?

The question has been debated endlessly.  My colleague Greg Crespi's tenure piece (more than 10 years ago) suggested a futures market for organs might work nicely.  Many others have chimed in over the years. This month, Chicago's Gary Becker and the Seventh Circuit's Richard Posner make the case nicely over at their blog. There isn't much new in their discussion, though I like Posner's extended analysis of why donation rates are higher in opt-out countries than in opt-in countries. 

For those who are aghast at the classical economic analysis of organ shortages and the beneficial effects of a monetary market in organs, one commenter offers this tip:

A legal non-monetary market for organs exists in the United States. It's called LifeSharers. Anyone can participate for free at http://www.lifesharers.org.

When you join LifeSharers you agree to donate your organs when you die, and you also agree to offer them first to fellow members. In return you get preferred access to the organs of all other members.

This is an excellent trade. By giving up your organs after you can't use them anymore, you increase your chances of getting an organ if you ever need one. Given that more than half of the people who need a transplant die before they get one, this is a significant benefit.

By creating a pool of organs available first to members, LifeSharers creates an incentive for non-donors to donate and to join LifeSharers. This incentive gets more powerful as the number of members increases.

LifeSharers uses a form of directed donation that is legal under federal law and under the laws of all 50 states. Parents can enroll their minor children. No one is excluded because of any medical condition.

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