Legal Market for Transplant Organs


Organ transplantation is one of the most groundbreaking medical procedures available today. Through this technology, patients who in the past would have died from diseased organs are given a new lease of life by having healthy organs transplanted into their bodies. Due to the effectiveness of transplantations in restoring heath, many people seek these procedures. The high demand for the services has caused a high need for transplant organs.

It is currently illegal to be involved in the buying or selling of transplant organs in the US. To supply the needs of the thousands of Americans in need of transplant surgeries, hospitals rely on donor organs. However, the number of organs obtained from donors does not fulfill the demand. There has therefore been some discussion on whether a regulated compensation system should be introduced.

Advocates of the commercialization of transplant organs claim that this is the only way to deal with the critical shortage being experienced currently. However, opponents of the establishment of a compensation system declare that it would be morally wrong since it would lead to the exploitation of the poor. This paper will argue that the government should allow a legal market for transplant organs to exist in order to deal with the critical shortage of these commodities and hence save lives.

Why Organ Sale Should be Legalized

The introduction of a legal organ market would help overcome the current critical shortage in transplant organs. As it currently stands, the only legal way to obtain the organs is from free donors. These donors have failed to meet the high demand for the organs and a huge deficit exits between demand and supply. Matas confirms that the markedly increased demand for organs has not been matched by an increase in the supply (216).

This has led to a situation where patients die while waiting for transplant organs to become available. Other patients have been forced to undergo painful and expensive procedures such as dialysis as they await transplantation. Commercializing transplant organs would create a financial incentive for people to provide their organs.

Research indicates that when there is a monetary benefit to providing organs, people are more willing to give up some of their organs for transplantations. Introducing a legal market in the US would therefore reduce the current shortage greatly benefiting the patients who are forced to wait for months or even years before finding an organ.

Another benefit of legalizing organs sale is that it would help deal with the thriving transplant organ black market. Sale of organs for transplant is illegal in all countries with the exception of Iran. This has led to the development of thriving black markets for transplant organs in most countries.

The black market is highly unregulated and this leads to some significant problems. Vendors in the trade can obtain the organs through illegal and violent means. According to Radcliffe, some traders extract organs from unwilling donors in order to obtain the highest profit from the sale of these organs (139). In some cases, the unwilling donors are killed during the organ extraction process. Due to the profit motivation of the black market, patients are charged very high prices for the organs while the organ sellers are often underpaid.

Most of the payment goes to a broker instead of the person who provided the organ. For example, the vendor might charge as much as $150,000 for a kidney while paying the donor a merger $2,000 (Radcliffe 140). A legal organ sale market would remove the financial incentives for the illegal traders therefore destroying the transplant organs black market.

In addition to this, a legitimate framework for the trade in organs would obligate the traders to obtain their organs from legitimate sources. The patients would also benefit from a reduced cost of organs. Currently, the black market traders charge exorbitant fees due to the monopoly they hold in the trade.

The development of a regulated organ sale system would increase the safety for patients by deterring transplant tourism. Cohen declares that the lack of a legal organ market has promoted travel abroad to purchase organs for transplant (269). The most significant transplant tourism destinations are developing countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Thousands of patients from the developed world travel to these destinations to purchase and have new organs transplanted.

The health outcomes of transplant tourists are often lower compared to those of patients who have legal transplants in the US. Research reveals that most tourists suffer from serious post-transplant infections and surgical complications (Cohen 273). These poor outcomes are attributed to the low quality of surgery provided in the illegal transplant destinations.

Most of the facilities are ill equipped and the hygiene levels might be below standard. Most patients require intensive medical treatment when they get back to the US. A legitimate organ market would make it possible for the patients to purchase the organs in their home nation and have the procedure done in a well-equipped hospital.

Opposition to Organ Sale and Counterarguments

A major argument made against the establishment of a legal organ sales market is that the poor people would be coerced by financial pressure into selling their organs. Matas confirms that individuals living under conditions of social insecurity and economic abandonment would be most willing to sell their body parts for a quick profit (217).

This claim is supported by studies, which reveal that the poor in developing nations sell organs as a way of meeting pressing financial needs or offsetting debts. Opponents of commercialization therefore argue that legalizing organ trade would only increase the scale by which the poor are exploited. The truth is that the financial incentive provided by an organ sale market would mostly attract the poor.

Proponents of commercialization argue that trade in transplant organs will continue even without legalization. Despite the existence of laws against organ trade, there is a growing unregulated market for sales. Through the black market, the poor will sell their body parts for meager amounts while the brokers make the largest profits.

The lack of regulation disadvantages the organ sellers. Research by Cohen reveals that middlemen and clinics paid the organ sellers 33% less than they had promised (271). With the establishment of a legal market, the compensation will be fair due to regulation. This will ensure that the poor benefit more from their organs than they currently do.

Another argument made against legalizing organ sales is that this practice does not bring about long-term economic benefits for the seller. Most proponents of legalizing organ sale claim that there is nothing wrong with the poor being given a chance to benefit from their bodies. However, the economic gain obtained from organ sales is not lasting and the majority of the poor sellers are back to their original state of poverty a few years after the sale Rothman (1537). In many instances, the poor experience a decline in their health status after selling a body organ.

Their ability to generate income is reduced as a direct result of their surgery. Opponents of organ sales declare that legalization would not lead to any lasting economic benefit for the donor. Instead, the organ sales would lead to diminished health outcomes and poverty. While it is true that organ sale does not currently benefit the poor, this can be blamed on the illegal status of the trade. The brokers do not pay the poor adequately for their organs. In addition to this, some of the surgeries take place in unhygienic conditions leading to infections and surgical complications.

With a legal market, the poor would be paid fairly and the money obtained from the transaction could help improve the lives of the individual. Radcliffe states that the individual can use the lump sum paid for his/her organ to achieve upward mobility (139). Cohen asserts that one cannot defend an outright ban on organ sale if such a ban makes the poor worse off than they would be if they were allowed to commercialize their organs (276).


This paper set out to argue for the legalization of organ sales in the US. It began by highlighting how transplant procedures play a crucial role in restoring the health of individuals with failing organs. It then noted the current dire shortage in transplant organs and the need for a solution.

From the paper, it is clear that introducing a legal market in transplant organs would increase organ supply, mitigate black market, and prevent transplant tourism. The paper has reviewed some of the concerns raised against legalizing organ trade. It has shown that while the concerns are valid, the patient and organ donor would be better off than they currently are if the organ sale was legalized.

Works Cited

Cohen, Glenn. “Transplant Tourism: The Ethics and Regulation of International Markets for Organs.” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 41.1 (2013): 269-285.

Matas, Arthur. “Payment for Living Donor (Vendor) Kidneys: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis.” American Journal of Transplantation 4.2(2004): 216-221.

Radcliffe, Richards. “Commentary: An ethical market in human organs.” Journal of Medical Ethics 29.3(2010): 139–140.

Rothman, Sheila. “The Hidden Cost of Organ Sale.” American Journal of Transplantation 6.7(2009): 1524-1529.