Once in a while an idea comes along that's so crazy it just might work. A week ago I wrote a blog about the rise in tuition fees and the perceived necessity of a university education. But let's for a second consider that, having looked at all my options, I decide a university degree is the right path for me but I'm still concerned about the costs. Well one academic might just have the solution I'm looking for – I could pay off my debts by selling a kidney.
Whilst the topic of financially incentivising organ donation is a divisive one, with many people concerned with the huge potential for exploitation, selling parts of oneself is not as extreme as you might think. It is, of course, a rarity to hear of someone selling a kidney to buy an iPad. Yet selling plasma, hair and even semen has been the practice of many cash-strapped students in the US and other countries. It's easy to see why paid donation is a popular option; donors give away renewable resources or "spare parts" to a good cause whilst receiving a valuable source of income. Perhaps there is a realistic scope for opening up organ and general bodily donations to a private market.
According to donation statistics, as of January 2011, 6,741 people are waiting for a kidney on the transplant list, a scary figure considering only 2,520 kidney transplants took place in 2010 and over 1,000 will die waiting for an organ to become available. Many people argue that legalising a market in transplant organs will undermine the current altruistic donor programme. Professor John Harris of Manchester University makes a good point, arguing that "being paid doesn't nullify altruism – doctors aren't less caring because they are paid. With the current system, everyone gets paid except for the donor."
Aside from increasing the number of potential living organ donors a legal market would dissuade so called "transplant tourists" who resort to travelling abroad to purchase organs of questionable health on the black market. Potential savings for the NHS are also a considerable factor. In the case of kidney disease particularly, even a substantial pay-out of around £25,000 for a transplanted kidney would pay for itself in eighteen months, due to the expense of dialysis treatment for suffers.
Setting up a private market for organs does run the risk of exploiting those most in need of cash, meaning proposals for a paid system would need to be carefully considered. But, at a time where NHS costs are sky-rocketing and the need for organ and blood donation is increasing, incentivising donation is an absolute necessity. Whilst the altruist in me likes to think I would donate a kidney to someone in dire need of one, the chance to pay off my student loans whilst doing so might just be the deal-maker.