The need for kidney transplants has been steadily growing in recent years. In the United States as well as many other countries, the need for kidney transplants is far greater than available donors. According to an article in the New York Times, in 2013 there were approximately 16,900 kidney transplants. However, this past September there were more than 100,000 patients who needed a kidney transplant. On average, in the United States, the waiting time for a kidney is close to 5 years. Over 4,000 people a year die waiting for a kidney transplant.
An article in the Wall Street Journal, written last year by a Nobel Prize winning professor of economics at the University of Chicago and another economics professor at the Universidad del CEMA in Argentina, discussed the need for kidney transplants and suggested that the solution to the current kidney shortage was to establish a market for organs. The authors estimated that the kidney shortage might be resolved by setting up a system by which individuals would receive an average payment of $15,000 to donate a kidney. Currently, the only country in which it is legal to sell a kidney is Iran.
A few years ago, a British academic created a stir when she suggested the idea that college students should be allowed to sell a kidney if they wished to do so, and that this could help the kidney shortage problem as well as enable college students to gain money to pay off debt. She stated that college students should be paid a set amount, around £28,000, to donate a kidney. That amount is equal to the average annual income in the United Kingdom.
Is it ethical to set up a system by which people can donate a kidney for money? Does this commodify the human body? Does this exploit people who are economically disadvantaged, or does it simply create an opportunity for them to make the decision to sell a kidney?