Will organs soon be for sale?


MIAMI, Fla. – If you were sick and needed a new organ to live, how far would you go?  Would you pay cash for a new kidney?  A recent Wall Street Journal essay is generating a lot of talk and controversy in the medical community about that subject.  Some say it's time to compensate live organ donors.

Denise Martinez has something to say on the matter. 

"I just wanted to live," said Martinez.

It's been almost a life long battle for her.  When she was 7 years old, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Later, it was renal failure.  She desperately needed a kidney to survive. Her thoughts  the same as any other dialysis patient.

"For a  person who is waiting for an organ transplant that's all they can think about day and night," Martinez explained.

But time is something dialysis patients don't have.  That's why Professors Gary Becker and Julio J. Elias are calling for change. They think the United States should  create a compensation program for live donors.

"In a market system in which you will have competition that will assure you quality, in fact I think that the quality will increase," said Elias, Nobel Prize Laureate.

Many in the medical community strongly disagree.

"Anytime you can buy and sell human parts your approaching or crossing a boundary we've been very reluctant to cross," said Kenneth W. Goodman, Director, University of Miami Bioethics Program.

The development of immunosuppressive drugs in the 1970's made kidney transplants more successful. And that has increased the number of patients needing an organ. 

But in 2012, fewer than 20 percent of the 95,000 people on a waiting list received a lifesaving donation. The life expectancy for a person on dialysis is  an additional 8 years. After a kidney transplant, life expectancy increases 23 years.

"The minute you go on dialysis it's almost like a ticking clock.  Your survival diminishes significantly," said Transplant Nephrologist Dr. Giselle Guerra.

Becker and Elias both advocate a pay-it-forward approach.

"You will have a wide pool of people to choose.  Now, you have a narrow pool," said Elias.

"People who need money are more likely to be donors then people who don't.  And that puts the burden of donation or the burden of the system more heavily on poor people or people who are desperate for funds.  It means that maybe it's not entirely voluntary," said Goodman.

Martinez received her kidney in 2009 and is now healthy. She thinks cash for kidneys is something that needs to be considered.

"It's always an option," she said. "It would be nice if people who do have the money and are able to afford to make it easy for someone to donate an organ for them to be allowed to do it legally."

"Stick to what we know best and our medical based knowledge is based on evidenced-based medicine," added Guerra.

Right now the biggest obstacle to live donorship is cost and paying for the aftercare of donors.  The National Kidney Foundation is working on getting insurance companies to cover live donorship.