My earlier post today drew a comment from the executive director of an organization, LifeSharers, with an interesting approach to promoting deceased organ donation. In economist-speak, they want to increase organ donation by changing it from a public good to a club good.
Deceased organ donation is a public good in the sense that everyone is better off in expectation if everyone else is willing to donate their organs when they die, but no one receives any direct benefit from donating his organs after death (and there must be perceived costs to donation, since not everyone is a donor).
Economists often worry about how to provide public goods (which is one reason for the invention of taxes: the fellow who mows the lawn in a public park is likely a city employee, but there's no problem in getting people to maintain their own, private lawns...)
In between public and private goods are "club goods," like a park or country club that is funded by members, and is only open to members and their guests. The idea of LifeSharers is that organ donation can be a club good: members indicate that they are willing to donate their organs, giving first preference to other members.
The LifeSharers site has references to some of the many articles that discuss this or similar ideas favorably in the context of organ donation. (I can't put my finger offhand on an unfavorable reference, but I recall seeing some arguments in the medical ethics literature that question whether you should always be happy giving preference to a club member in favor of a non club member, when there might also be many other features that distinguish them...)
As a practical matter, there are obviously obstacles to making a voluntary club good out of a public good that only benefits a member with very low probability. The LifeSharers FAQ includes the following:
Q. How many LifeSharers members have died and donated organs?
A. We have not yet had a member die in circumstances that would have permitted recovery of his or her organs.
Whatever your views on the market design issues, the holidays are a good time (when families are gathered) to let yours know that you would like to be an organ donor, so that they will be able to act on your wishes if it comes to that.