Monday, January 21, 2008

Body Parts Futures?

From an op-ed by Ian Williams in the Guardian:

In the US, the alleged bastion of property rights, religious obscurantism is robbing American citizens of their birthright. Everyone, no matter how poor, is wandering around with some quarter of a million dollars worth of transplant material: but because of the 1984 National Organ Transplantation Act, they cannot cash in their chips.

The surgeons and hospitals of America can charge an arm and a leg for hoisting out hearts and replanting them, and it seems some morticians can eke out their bottom line on the side, but the donors have no financial incentive whatsoever. Talk about a "death tax!" This no mere Republican rhetorical trope - it's the real thing. The federal government, almost unchallenged, has deprived us of the usufruct of our most personal property.

Adam Smith's invisible hand is just waiting to be transplanted into this field. Of course you may object that it is difficult for a cadaver to take profits from such a sale, but think futures. If bankers can sell stinkers like collateralised debt obligations, they should easily be able to devise an actuarially advised organ options market which would make a return for the living, and help a return to life for those in need of the spare parts.

The principle is the same as the viaticals market in which for example, HIV sufferers were able to cash in their life insurance early so they could enjoy the proceeds while still alive.

The people who would rush to sell organ futures would very likely also be those who are least likely to have a private pension scheme and who would benefit most from topping up their social security funds.

If the government really must get involved, it could help solve the alleged social security crisis by insisting that at least some, if not all, of the proceeds, would be invested in some sort of individual retirement account, but a cash handout would also help boost the recession-verging economy by putting money into the hands of people who would rush out and spend it.

Ben Barros

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