Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kieran Healy on markets for organs

Kieran Healy is profiled at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, answering the question "Should there be a market for human organs?"

"In the end, there is less of a division between gift-giving and market exchange than we might think. Incentives are not incompatible with the kind of moral obligations associated with donation. We may wish for a bright line between virtuous gifts and selfish markets, but the boundary is constantly crossed, in both directions.

"For example, gifts can be easy vehicles for getting people in your debt, or obtaining something for free, and people calculate very precisely what the “right” amount to spend on a present is when birthdays or holidays come around. On the other hand, markets routinely have strongly moralized aspects, as we take care to pay people in ways that signal our esteem for them. We discreetly reimburse people for their time, or give them an honorarium, say, rather than paying them in cash by the hour.

"A lawful market in organs would probably be considered more legitimate if it resembled a gift exchange, as we see already taking place in the case of human eggs, where the language of donation predominates even though the eggs are bought and sold and prices are widely advertised. However, even today, with the exception of kidneys, you can’t get a transplant unless you have the insurance to pay for it, despite others’ willingness to donate their organs. So why should people feel any obligation to give to a system that serves those who need it so poorly?"

No comments: