Who owns your body? You? Or Al Gore?
Many Americans believe it is immoral, if not disgusting, to buy and sell parts of people. Al Gore feels that way, and when he was a congressman, he persuaded his colleagues to outlaw organ selling.
But a free exchange that greatly improves the lives of both parties is a good thing. It's stopping it that's immoral -- and deadly.
More than 60,000 people whose kidneys have failed are waiting for transplants. Many survive by enduring hours hooked up to dialysis machines. The machines clean their blood, pinch-hitting for diseased kidneys. But they cannot do it as well as a kidney. Dialysis is painful, exhausting and expensive.
So 60,000 Americans pray for a new kidney. Some get them from friends and family. More get them from strangers who die in accidents.
But accidents and altruists don't provide enough kidneys, so on a typical day, 17 people die waiting for kidneys.
Many dialysis patients are desperate. Ed Lavatelli told us price was no object. "I would pay whatever I had to, really ... because it's indescribable to be a person with kidney failure. It really is."
Tragically, Ed's agony was needless because plenty of people were willing to help him. Ruth Sparrow of St. Petersburg, Fla., wanted money, so she ran a newspaper ad that read: "Kidney, runs good, $30,000 or best offer." She got a couple of serious calls, she said, but then the newspaper warned her she might be arrested.
Why? Why aren't desperate people allowed to use money as a motivator?
Because other people hate the idea, and since some of those people are in government, they get to lock you up for doing what they hate.
I talked with Steve Rivkin, who joined a waiting list for kidneys when it was "just" 30,000 names long. "I don't think that there's anything wrong with paying money for a kidney transplant," he told me. "I just want a kidney that works!"
Dr. Brian Pereira, former president of the National Kidney Foundation, told me he empathized with Rivkin's need. "The good news," he said, "is that this person can continue on dialysis under the current system, which functions extremely well."
Seventeen deaths per day is a system functioning "extremely well"? When I challenged him about that, he said poor people would be vulnerable to "exploitation" if there were an open market for kidneys.
I found pictures of men from the Philippines who'd exchanged a kidney for just $1,000. They posed on a beach, showing their scars. Such pictures make wealthy Americans say, "These poor people were exploited! They risked their lives for just $1,000."
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