As Missouri becomes the latest state to consider relaxing mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists, some critics — or cynics — have suggested that repeal has at least one health benefit: more organ donors.
There is at least one oft-cited study that suggests that they’re right. The research even suggests — in the cool, precise language of probabilities and percentages — that every motorcyclist who dies in a crash without a helmet is in some ways sacrificing one life for another.
In 2011, economists at Michigan State University published research in the Journal of Law and Economics saying that organ donors from motor vehicle accidents increased by 10 percent in states that repealed mandatory helmet laws.
The authors — Stacy Dickert-Conlin, Todd Elder and Brian Moore — suggested that the link was causal for two reasons: Nearly all of the increase among motor-vehicle-related organ donors could be accounted for by young men, who make up 90 percent of motorcycle deaths. And the authors said helmet laws have no impact on organ donors who died in circumstances other than motor vehicle accidents.
The grim upside is that those young men dying on motorcycles mean people in need of an organ transplant may get a new chance at life. Says the study: “The estimates imply that every death of a helmetless motorcyclist prevents or delays as many as 0.33 deaths among individuals on organ transplant waiting lists.”
Several readers, in response to an earlier post on the subject here, made the same point.
“All the [Missouri] patients who are awaiting organ transplants thank those opposed to helmet laws,” one wrote.
It’s an economics that is understood all too well in hospitals, where some doctors refer to motorcycles as “donorcycles.”
When California was considering a mandatory helmet law years ago, a physician there told the New York Times that people on the hospital’s transplant team fretted that a decreased supply of organ donors could have a negative impact on their business.
“Motorcycle fatalities are not only our number one source of organs. They are also the highest-quality source of organs, because donors are usually young, healthy people with no other traumatic injuries to the body, except to the head,” the unidentified physician was quoted as saying. “The hospital already has serious financial issues. This could put us out of business — or at least the business of organ transplants.”
Read more of Tripping: