Organ Socialism

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Imagine Congress
passed a law making it illegal to buy or sell pianos, so the only
pianos available were donated pianos.

Imagine this
law paid for the formation and operation of piano procurement organizations
to identify potential piano donors, acquire donated pianos, and
transport them to piano distributors.

Imagine this
law created a Piano Procurement and Transportation Network to set
standards for the acquisition and transportation of donated pianos
by piano procurement organizations, coordinate the distribution
of pianos from piano procurement organizations to piano distributors,
maintain a national piano waiting list, and establish a national
system to match pianos and individuals on that list.

Imagine this
law ordered a Washington bureaucrat to outsource the operation of
the Piano Procurement and Transportation Network to an organization
whose board had to include representatives of piano procurement
organizations and piano distributors. Imagine this bureaucrat then
hired an organization titled the United Network for Piano Sharing.

Imagine you
could only get your name added to the piano waiting list by a government-approved
piano distributor, and only if you paid a listing fee to the United
Network for Piano Sharing. Imagine you could then only receive a
donated piano if you paid a fee to the piano distributor.

What a nightmare
for people who want pianos!

Substitute
"organ" for "piano" and this is reality, not
an absurd fantasy. And because we are talking about human organs,
not musical ones, the cost of this idiocy is thousands of lives
lost every year.

Congress passed
the National Organ Transplantation Act in 1984, making it illegal
to buy or sell human organs. That law funded organ procurement organizations,
which find organ donors, acquire organs, and ship them to transplant
hospitals. It also created the Organ Procurement and Transplantation
Network. It made the Secretary of Health & Human Services responsible
for outsourcing OPTN's operation. HHS hired the United Network for
Organ Sharing. People who need transplants can only be put on the
waiting list by government-approved transplant hospitals, and only
if they pay UNOS a listing fee. Transplant patients pay hospitals
for the donated organs they get from organ procurement organizations.

How's this
system working? Over 6,000 people on the transplant waiting list
died waiting in 2005. Another 1,800 left the list because they became
too sick for surgery. They'll die soon — if they're still alive.
The waiting list has doubled in ten years to over 92,000 people.
Most people on the list will die waiting.

It's a good
thing we don't have a system like this for food or clothing — or
pianos.

Our organ collection
and distribution system looks like something designed by socialist
central planners, with help from Rube Goldberg. But our system is
actually worse. Socialists may control prices, but they don't usually
set them at zero. That's the price Congress set for human organs,
and that's guaranteed to create a shortage. If Congress set the
price of food at zero, would anyone be surprised to see lots of
hungry people?

Please don't
mistake this for an economics lesson. Organ socialism kills people.
Replacing it with a free market system would save thousands of lives
every year. But that's just not going to happen in the foreseeable
future. It's a complete non-starter from a political standpoint.

Fortunately,
you can opt out of organ socialism. The bureaucrats don't like it,
but your participation is voluntary. If you need an organ, you don't
have to just hope the bureaucrats find one for you. You can get
one directly from another individual. You also don't have to let
the bureaucrats decide who gets your organs when you die. You can
decide for yourself who gets them. The process is called directed
donation, and it's legal under federal and state law.

If you're going
to decide who gets your organs, why not give them to others who
are willing to return the favor? That's the idea behind LifeSharers,
a grass-roots organ donation network. Members use directed donation
to offer their organs first to other members. Joining LifeSharers
could literally save your life, because you'll get preferred access
to the organs of every other member. Membership is free and open
to all at lifesharers.org.

By forming
a pool of organs available first to registered organ donors, LifeSharers
creates a powerful incentive for everyone to register as an organ
donor and join the network. This incentive becomes stronger with
each additional member. As LifeSharers expands, it will eventually
save thousands of lives every year. Your life could be one of them.

LifeSharers
can't fix the mess caused by organ socialism as fast as a free market
in organs could. But until Congress sees fit to repeal the absurdity
it enacted in the National Organ Transplant Act a free market in
organs is illegal. So for now, LifeSharers is the best available
alternative.

May
11, 2006

Lloyd
Cohen [send him mail] (right)
is professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law.
David J. Undis [send
him mail
] (left) is Executive Director of LifeSharers.

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