Cash for Kidneys

The United States is in a medical crisis. This is not an issue of escalating healthcare costs or an overseas epidemic, but rather a homegrown problem: a massive shortage of kidneys. The lack of available kidneys leads to around 4,000 deaths annually in the US, and over 85,000 people are waiting for one currently. The fact that kidney transplants are now incredibly safe – the mortality rate is .03%, and immunosuppresants allow for a high quality of life for receivers – makes this situation especially unbearable. In a recent Triple Helix article, for which I interviewed Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker, I explore possible ways to close this gap – and why that hasn’t be done so far. You can read the article here. First couple paragraphs below the fold:

Image: cwwphotos

Twelve patients filed into six operating rooms; nine surgical teams set to work and ten hours later six people emerged with new, working kidneys [1]. Simultaneously transplanting six kidneys is an extraordinarily convoluted operation, and would only take place in the dismal context in which the United States finds itself: a desperate shortage of kidneys. The situation has degraded to such an extent that, as with the case above, patients and potential donors are resorting to bartering with their organs. Five of the six recipients had relatives who were immunologically unable to donate to them and, with the addition of an altruistic donor, were able to mix and match types so they all received kidneys. The operations were performed simultaneously so none of the parties could back out [1].

From: OPTN Report, 2008

This extraordinary story is just one sign of our current medical crisis. The dire shortage of kidney donations leads to nearly 4,000 deaths annually in the US [2]. And that’s a low bound; some estimates reach as high as 9,000 deaths per year [3]. Currently over 86,000 people are waiting for a donation [4], but perhaps the most fearful statistic is the change in death rate for people on the waiting list which, between 1998 and 2007, rose 76% [5]. While the demand for kidneys grows daily, many economists and medical professionals are exploring innovative and controversial solutions, like the kidney exchange above, which may reduce some of these disturbing statistics. While many of these solutions appear to be at least somewhat effective, they carry a number of moral concerns that must also be addressed.

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One Response to Cash for Kidneys

  1. Pingback: The Voluntary Problem | Morton and George

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