In a free market society, would selling organs be an ethical way to supply the high volume of transplant patients? In his lecture, “The Morality of Organ Trafficking,” Westmont professor Mark Nelson, delivered at the University Club in downtown Santa Barbara on April 8, laid out the moral and economic arguments surrounding the idea of an organ market and whether it should be pursued in the United States.

Last year in the U.S., according to Nelson, there were 80,000 people waiting for kidney transplants, but only 16,000 operations were performed. There simply are not enough organs to go around and not enough living donors willing to contribute.

To find a solution, Nelson discussed several possible options, listing their benefits and their drawbacks. The main focus surrounded the selling of organs in a legal way, expanding and imposing regulations on what is now an underground trade.

“An economist will tell you the best way to fight a black market is with a free market,” Nelson said.

Throughout the lecture Nelson compared selling organs with the trafficking of people or sex, using these comparisons to give an example of the moral issues that have been raised against the organ trade. Delving thoroughly into each point, he brought up religious, social, and personal drawbacks to each idea. Some religions will not countenance selling parts of the body, he said, as a body belongs to its creator. Socially, a country must consider if selling organs would give those with more money the advantage over those who might not be able to afford the transplant fees.

To ensure fairness in who received organs, Nelson proposed a monopsony, a form of market where there is only one buyer, making it possible to dictate standards to the sellers. Potentially, the U.S. healthcare system could establish itself as the only buyer of organs, and then create a safe, egalitarian system for distributing transplants.

“Is there really anything wrong with it if it is done in the right way?” Nelson asked.


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