Are your kidneys available to me? - Seventh in a series
By NIH - link, Public Domain, LinkIf you read the last post, you may be wondering, “How did taxpayers become liable for Medicare’s renal dialysis payments?” And, “Would we also be liable if a kidney seller becomes incapacitated?”
There are many questions that are circular rabbit trails. We can only shake our heads and try, as Christians, to determine how we ought to think and to act in respect to current and prospective biomedical procedures and practices. Are they OK with God?
Currently in America:
Sec. 301. (a) It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation…
(b) Any person who violates subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. (ref)
This law presumes that organ sharing is right and good, as long as there is no payment involved. Heaven forbid commodifying the human body! Perhaps, though, those who wrote the law overlooked or forgot that there are significant payments made to the doctors and others. (Evidently, in many cases, this law’s word knowingly comes in handy. It’s unlawful to knowingly acquire…)
There will inevitably be a black market for body parts as long as federal law prohibits payment to sellers while there are many times more people needing transplants than there are donors.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes (see previous posts) tracked down “body brokers” and interviewed surgeons and other medical staff in the course of her research-on-a-mission.
An example of a statement from a surgeon paints the picture of how organs slip in under the radar.
Alternatively cajoling and asking pointed questions, Scheper-Hughes pressed on. The doctor said that some of the transplants set up by Rosenbaum* seemed ‘fishy.’ “Some of the recipients were from New York, and it did feel a little strange that they found this donor from Israel.” He went on to suggest that it was likely that everyone involved at the hospital had good reason to be suspicious. “There is no question that everyone in the program felt that it would be very possible that there was some kind of incentive there. I didn’t feel that I had to be the police. As long as I don’t know and as long as I don’t have any evidence, I’m not going to deny the transplant just because I have the suspicion,” he said. (ref)
Does it make sense to help one, probably older, person live longer at the expense of another, younger person who is giving up a kidney? In America the recipient will have healthcare options, but perhaps the seller from some other part of the world will have no recourse to compensation for aftercare. How can this inequity and exploitation be avoided?
Would it help if the U. S. began to compensate donors, that is, to pay sellers? The fee of $45,000 for a kidney mentioned in the previous post may initially draw in quite a number of people. But would it prevent exploitation of the poor here or in other countries?
Not likely, says Scott Carney. In his article, “If you’re willing to buy a kidney, you’re willing to exploit the poor” he states:
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the United States would be able to create its own equitable system. What would happen in the rest of the world? Whether we like it or not, we live in the era of globalization, and if the U.S. legalizes the market for body parts, there is no reason to think that international economies won’t play a role in how a patient decides to procure transplant organs.
According to the National Foundation for Transplants, a kidney transplant costs about $260,000. In the illegal organ markets in India, Egypt and Pakistan, the same procedure rings in at just shy of $20,000 — certified organ included. (ref)
Mr. Carney goes on to point out we can look at what happened in the market for human surrogate babies to determine how the legalization of organ selling would go down.
In the United States, it is legal to pay a woman to carry a child, so long as the money is called “compensation” and not coercion. Even so, an American surrogate might cost as much as $100,000 in such arrangements. Once the market was clearly defined in the United States, other countries, with looser definitions of human rights, fought for their share of the market. In 2002, India became the go-to destination for procuring a budget surrogate womb. To the surprise of no one, the Indian industry soon began to cut corners. Women were housed under lock and key in houses known to the press as “baby factories.” Because U.S. patients demanded to know the condition of their children during the entire course of the pregnancy, surrogates became virtual slaves under the doctor’s perpetual surveillance.
The factories multiplied and soon tens of thousands of international customers reasoned that if it was legal to hire a surrogate at home, why not save money abroad? (ibid)
Is the certainty that some people will be exploited enough reason for Christians to oppose transplantation from live persons, whether donors or sellers? We have seen that
- there are not enough live donors to supply the demand
- a black market exists to try to fill the gap
- even payment will not prevent exploitation; it simply legalizes it
There does not seem a clear way for Christians to assent to organ transplantation, whether they espouse social justice as their highest belief or simply believe the Bible.
In the next post we will play devil's advocate and consider some concepts that may support permission for kidney selling or donation. We will then look at the health risks of donating a kidney and societal implications of selling them.
*Rosenbaum was an organ broker who was convicted and sent to prison. [The article states—]He is the only person so far ever successfully prosecuted for organ trafficking under the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act.
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