Thomas Sowell

It was gratifying news when fans around the country volunteered to donate their kidneys to basketball star Alonzo Mourning, who would otherwise have to cut short his career because of life-threatening medical problems with his own kidneys. However, the head of the New York Organ Donor Network said that it was a shame "that it takes a personal tragedy of someone famous like Alonzo to raise awareness" of a need for organ donations when 17 people on the waiting list die daily.

 What is an even bigger shame is that laws block the supply of organs to people who may be dying needlessly as a result.

 Take the case of Alonzo Mourning and suppose that not a living soul was willing to give him a kidney. He was going to have to either give up a $23 million a year career or risk death by subjecting his kidneys to the stresses of playing. Suppose the law allowed him to offer half of that amount to anyone who would sell him a kidney.

 Do you doubt that there would be someone willing to part with a kidney for that kind of money? There might well have been even more people willing to part with a kidney than there were.

 I happen to know a lady who was born with three kidneys -- and in poverty. Do you think she would have minded parting with a spare kidney, in order to have a better life for herself and her children?

 With more than 80,000 people on waiting lists for various organs, and many dying while waiting, why prevent such transactions? One reason is that third parties would be offended.

 You know the words and the music: How terrible that the rich can buy other people's body parts -- and that the poor are so desperate as to sell.

 If you think that you have a right to forbid other people from making such voluntary transactions, then you are saying that your delicate sensibilities are more important than the poverty or even the deaths of other people.

 Banning organ sales does nothing to make the poor less poor. Nor do those 80,000-plus people on waiting lists have to be rich. Three economists have estimated the cost of buying an organ in a free market at a price well within most people's budgets.

 Donors could collect the money while living, in exchange for permission to remove the organ after their death. They could also authorize an organ transplant from a family member already dead.

 The trump card of the left is always "the poor." But, if our real concern is the poor, the money to pay for them to receive organ transplants can be paid by others, whether the government or philanthropic individuals or organizations.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate