India Uncut

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Does your body belong to you?

Your answer, but naturally, would be: "Of course it does. How dare you even ask?"

And I presume that you'd strongly protest any attempt by the government to assume control over your body. If it issued a diktat that you may not use your left hand on Sundays, or pierce your left earlobe during summer, you would sneer in disbelief, and refuse to give in to the state's conceit.

I also presume that you'd extend your ownership to your kidneys.

I would, and that is why I agree with the Economist when it writes that "[g]overnments should let people trade kidneys, not convict them for it." I support this for both moral and utilitarian reasons. The moral reason has already been alluded to in this post: we have complete ownership of our bodies, and no one has a right to exercise control over it as long as we are not infringing on the freedom of others. Equally, we should have the freedom to trade with anyone we want as long as we are trading our own property -- and kidneys should not be exempt from this.

The utilitarian reason is that by banning trade in kidneys, we aren't stopping it entirely, but merely relegating it to shady black markets where both parties get ripped off. Black marketeers always have higher costs than legal operators, and in the case of a middleman, these get passed on to both the buyer and the seller. Also, unlike legal operators who would be within the purview of the law, and would have to maintain high standards in a competitive market, black marketeers need not give a damn about standards and practices.

So who suffers when trading kidneys is illegal? Four kinds of people do:

One, the potential buyers who die waiting for a kidney transplant.

Two, the poor sellers who value the money more than a redundant kidney, but have no way to sell them.

Three, the buyers who do get kidneys from the black market, but at a higher cost than they would otherwise have paid, and with no reliable guarantees that the kidney is disease-free.

Four, the chappies who sell their kidneys in the black market, but who might be operated upon in less-than-ideal medical conditions, and who get less money than they would otherwise have got.

Legalising the trade of kidneys, thus, should be a complete no-brainer. But it isn't. A pity, no?

(Earlier posts on the subject: 1, 2.)

Update: Quizman points me, via email, to some moving (and insightful) articles on the subject by Virginia Postrel, who actually donated a kidney for a friend. She describes the experience here, and you can look through more of her writings here and here.
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