It's time to legalize kidney sales

George Kirby is the winner of this year's Young Writer on Liberty Prize, beating out dozens of applicants. We are delighted to post his excellent winning pieces to the blog over the next few days, and look forward to seeing much more of him in the years to come.

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Through this right to power over one's own body, it is legal to donate a kidney, whether to a friend or relative (Human Organ Transplants Act 1989), or to a general waiting list as a 'stranger' donation (legalised in the Human Tissue Act 2004).

Yet these Acts stipulate that “making payments for the supply of organs for transplantation or advertising a request for, or offer of, such organs for payment” is an offence. Concerns about the possible exploitation of the healthy poor by the nephropathic wealthy have led to more state control of the free market. Meanwhile, “three people a day die on the UK kidney transplant list”, according to the BBC.

This should change. A surprising example of a legal kidney market is that of Iran. Two state-surveyed charities match those who need a kidney with those who are compatible and prepared to sell. The vendor “is compensated by both the government and the recipient”. This system means that “there is no shortage of the organs”. A similar system in the UK would save thousands of lives and help alleviate the financial strain on the NHS, which spends more than £1.4 billion each year treating chronic kidney disease.

Furthermore, selling a kidney helps the vendor. Sue Rabbitt Roff, a researcher at Dundee University, suggests students could use the money to pay off university debt.

Those who oppose such a proposal argue that the state is the best judge of the individual's interests. Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee, said,

"Introducing payment could lead to donors feeling compelled to take these risks [of donation], contrary to their better judgement, because of their financial situation."

As it is, the dangers are greater for those selling organs via the illegal market, where advice, safe surgery and support are lacking. The government's policy against the trade of kidneys makes it more dangerous for who will sell anyway, needlessly costs patients' lives and, most fundamentally, infringes on individual liberty on the grounds that it is for our own good.