Should people pay for new organs?

12th July, 2007

Last month, 20-year old David Lomas donated over half of his liver to save the life of his father, Stephen. It was an inspiring sacrifice.

There aren’t enough donors to go around, and 400 people die each year in the UK while on the waiting list for an organ transplant.

So what about a bit of basic economics here: if we want more live organ donors, shouldn’t we pay people for their trouble?

To many people, the very idea is offensive. But is our disgust reasonable, or is it costing lives?

Our notions of what should be bought and sold have changed over time.

Life insurance, for example, was considered ghoulish until the early 20th century.

Now it is regarded as something that every responsible person should buy.

Yet there are still many transactions – anything from sex to a kidney transplant – that are viewed as beautiful in the context of a loving relationship, but corrupted by a cash payment.

So what should we make of a market for organs?

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