30 April 2008

Iranian Organ Market

This morning, I heard on the radio program, The Takeaway, a fascinating discussion about an apparently free organ market in Iran – most notably, a market for kidneys. According to the program, Iran is the only nation in the world that permits a person to sell one’s own kidney.

Two things about this stunned me. Most obviously, I was extremely surprised to hear that there is any semblance of a free market in Iran, never mind one that would permit organ sales. It’s a little hard to square this with a country that is so overtly contemptuous of Western ways – indeed, contemptuous of life itself. Nevertheless, it is apparently the case.

But also, I was surprised that the radio commentators did not dismiss the notion out of hand. Perhaps this represents progress. Previously, in the few times I have heard this topic brought up in mainstream channels, any hint of market principles pertaining to the distribution of organs has been met with shock and indignation, but on this program they seemed to treat an organ market as basically reasonable. (I must admit that I had trouble hearing the discussion fully because I was listening to it at work. However, I believe I got the gist of it accurately.) The commentators were rightly somewhat skeptical about any official news coming out of Iran, but they noted that Iran has reportedly “no waiting list for kidneys.”

Whether or not it is true, there is every reason to see that a free market would solve the organ shortage. While thousands of people in America die waiting helplessly for a kidney transplant to be bestowed upon them by an omnipotent bureaucrat, Iranians apparently live on, solving their problems the way civilized people do – as traders.

It is shameful for such a free market to be operating in Iran where it is not in the United States. If the story is even partially accurate, it represents another embarrassment to America. Like the Russian flat tax, it is an indication of the demise of liberty in this country that was once freedom’s greatest exponent.

(On a related note, I’m looking forward to
Scott Powell’s class tonight, which is going to cover Iran.)


C. August said...

Very interesting idea. And I agree with your assessment that, if true, the existence of a free market like this in Iran is an embarrassment to America.

I'm curious about one point you made. I'm not very familiar with how organ transplant lists work here, but I didn't think it was run by the government. Is it really a government run program, or is it a non-profit group with members from all major hospitals?

I suppose because the government makes the laws that say an organ market is illegal, even if the waiting list is a "voluntary" coalition of healthcare providers, the immoral government law has set the terms of the debate. At that point, whether the list was maintained by the government or some "impartial" non-profit would make little difference.

SB said...

I’m not sure how organ distribution is done in the United States, but it amounts to government control for exactly the reason you stated. If citizens are forbidden by law from buying or selling things, there are only three ways to facilitate the distribution or goods:

(1) have the government do it directly (e.g. under communism),
(2) have the government do it indirectly, enlisting corporations it favors (e.g. under fascism),
(3) have a “black” market (e.g. via criminals).

These are not very good choices, though I suppose if you need a kidney, there is a fourth choice (also not very good): buy one from an Iranian.

There may be certain ways around the intricate rules - for instance, in the US, I think you are permitted to donate a kidney to a particular person - but this merely emphasizes the fact that it is the government that is in charge. I believe the current state of affairs for organ distribution in America is determined by the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, which makes the sale of human organs illegal and permits these activities only to “qualified organizations” approved by the government. (This puts it in category 2, fascism.) Some of the mind-numbing details of this may be found here.

The brief Wikipedia entry mentions an interesting fact about the origin of the Act, which has a familiar name attached to it: “The National Organ Transplant Act was sponsored by Al Gore in 1984 and was passed by a margin of 396-6 in the House of Representatives.”

Burgess Laughlin said...

" [...] was passed by a margin of 396-6 in the House of Representatives.”

This is evidence for an argument against the myth that Republicans support capitalism and oppose statism.

If I had a year or two to spare, I would love to examine the history of this legislation to try to detect its philosophical roots. That would involve collecting explicit political defenses of the legislation and explicit moral judgments of a free market in organs--and then performing philosophical detection of both sets of statements.

I suspect Christianity is the root cause.

SB said...

Good point, Burgess. This is becoming more and more clear to me as time goes on. I have stopped voting for Republicans.