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."
But what gives us the right to decide for them? No one forced them. They wanted the $1,000 more than they wanted two kidneys. To say the poor are too desperate to resist a dangerous temptation is patronizing. Poor people are entitled to run their own lives, too.
Steve posted an ad online, and soon people from all over the world were calling to sell him a kidney. Pereira says sternly, "That's where we have to step in."
No, doctor, that's where you have to step aside. Like many anointed experts, Dr. Pereira thinks he and others like him -- "the government, the professional societies who help the government make the right policies" -- have to make our decisions for us. But that conceit condemns people to suffer and die -- as Steve Rivkin did.
Government and professional societies have no right to do that. They don't own your body. You do.
Al Gore may think that it is moral that if he and enough others who agree with him can get elected, they get to make your decisions. But that way lies death, if you need a kidney -- and deprivation if you need anything else he and his comrades don't want you to have. There's a better, truer morality: the morality of the Founders, who held it to be self-evident that each of us had the rights to life and liberty -- that each of us owned, and had the right to strive to preserve and enjoy, our own life.