Friday, May 16, 2008

An ethics double take

You, dear readers, get today two relevant articles about ethics. In the first, advocating a market for organs (kidneys, not Hammonds), author Sally Satel takes a view different from my gut position on that topic. The second - all I need say about it is that it warns what NOT to do when blogging, among other things. Its topic is bodysnarking, a word so new that no one besides the WSJ has defined it yet.

Update: As of 6:20pm CST, Google has 1,120 hits for it. Word spreads fast.

Satel's points, examining Gavin Carney's position (bold comments mine):
  • "He would have the government repeal the ban on kidney sales so it can purchase and distribute organs to patients languishing on dialysis." A laudable goal. But at what cost?
  • "Because of the global organ shortage, thousands of patients die unnecessarily each year for want of a kidney." True.
  • "And because organ sales are illicit, corrupt brokers may deceive indigent donors about the nature of transplant surgery, cheat them of payment, and ignore their postsurgical needs and long-term complications." Also true, unfortunately.
  • "The only way out is to increase the supply of available kidneys – whether by a cash payment to potential donors or through some other form of compensation." I think the main problem I have with this - that donations should not necessarily be paid for - is, ironically, at odds with my worldview. I believe, based on faith and evidence, that man is inherently evil; therefore, altruism can only go so far, and not very far at that.
  • "But the prohibition policy urged on these countries [such as China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Qatar] will only end up pushing organ markets further underground, or cause them to blossom elsewhere. World health authorities should direct their passion toward promoting a legal apparatus for exchange." This is the author's central point. (tongue-in-cheek alert) It certainly took her long enough to get here.
  • Misconception #1: the proposed system of paying donors (is that an oxymoron?) will replicate the evil side of capitalism. "[The] goal is a regulated, transparent regime backed by the rule of law and devoted to donor protection." Sure. But how do the relevant authorities plan to implement that?
  • #2: "Another misconception is that a compensation system inevitably preys on desperate people." Again, the authorities have a goal for that. Hm.
  • #3: "Would prospective donors lie about their health to be eligible for compensation?" Satel's answer? "An irrelevant worry in the context of regulated exchanges, since they would have to undergo rigorous medical testing over several months, which is the standard of care for altruistic donors."
  • The grand conclusion: "The way to stop illicit transactions – and the depredations of underground markets – is to sanction legal exchanges."
On its face, that last sentence sounds excellent. However, it brings to mind examples of moral decay in America and other countries - (snark mode alert) if you don't like something happening illegally, just pass a law making it legal! Whatever works is good!


MathewK said...

I'm not so sure about paying people for their kidney, however i'm open to people's families being paid for their organs if and when they die and it's ruled that the death was accidental or natural.

I want to give my organs to those who might need it when i kick the bucket, i wouldn't mind my relatives getting a small fee for it. Not thousands and thousands of dollars or something, perhaps enough to cover the costs of disposing of my old carcass!

Hannah said...

MK, you're exhibiting altruism at its near-best. And I do agree with you. Trouble is, altruism even at its best doesn't supply nearly the amount of organs needed. We've (a grossly sweeping generalization) had a shortage (a gross understatement) of needed organs for years now.