The United States would do well to follow New Zealand’s example of fully compensating organ donors for lost wages, and even go further towards full legalization of organ markets. As economist Alex Tabarrok points out, doing so might save thousands of lives every year, and save even more people from having to spend long periods of on kidney dialysis (a debilitating treatment that greatly impairs normal life, and is very costly to boot). Current US policies allow “reasonable” compensation for some expenses, including lost wages. But usually compensation for lost wages is only from recipients themselves and only after the fact rather than in advance).
In the past, I have outlined the case for legalizing organ markets in greater detail, and addressed a variety of objections, such as claims that organ markets would unjustly “exploit” the poor, and arguments that they would lead to dangerous “commodification” of the body and ethical corruption. Most recently, I have commented on a letter defending bone marrow markets signed by a cross-ideological group of leading ethicists.
While people can reasonably disagree about how organ markets should be structured and the extent to which they need to be regulated, there is a very strong case for legalizing them in order to save the lives of thousands of innocent people who are otherwise doomed to an early (and often painful) death, and tens of thousands more who must otherwise undergo years of needless suffering. Ultimately, the question is not whether there are objections to organ markets, but whether any of them are weighty enough to justify the infliction of so much death and misery.
UPDATE: I have made some revisions to this post to clarify the current state of US law.
UPDATE #2: The original version of this post incorrectly indicated that US law forbids most compensation for lost wages incurred by organ donors. It in fact allows “reasonable” compensation for such wages, though public and private insurance policies rarely if ever provide it. I apologize for the error, which has now been corrected.