A Modest Proposal


The American Medical Association recently approved a proposal that encourages research into paying people to donate organs when a family member dies.  The proposal, however, generated passionate debate, with some delegates arguing that any payment for organs is unethical.  "I don't want to be in the emergency room, bargaining with a family over what's the minimum [they] could get for this organ," said one delegate.  Another delegate said financial incentives would exploit the poor and "reduce all of us to body parts for sale."

Unfortunately, a black market in organs still exists.  People buy and sell organs without their government’s approval as if they had owned them since birth.  The market, it seems, is like a noxious weed—pull it up and it grows right back.

If we want to ever have a chance of eradicating this unethical system, we need to go after the supply, like we do in the War on Drugs.  We need to let the organ dealers know that we won’t tolerate their exploitation of the poor.  In our War on Drugs, we are currently spraying industrial-strength Roundup on farmers’ crops in Colombia.  We need to go after the organ supply with a similar fanatical zeal.   

Cocaine comes from Colombia, but where do organs come from?  Well, you are what you eat.  After you’re born, your organs continuously replace themselves with nutrients derived from the food you eat.  Food, then, is the building blocks of organs.  It is the equivalent of the coca plant.  Therefore, it must be eradicated.

If we can’t trust organs to the market, then we can’t trust the building blocks of organs to the market, either.  After all, people might try to increase the value of their organs by eating healthy foods.  Parents might feed their children to grow the size of their organs so that one day they’ll be in greater demand.  Selfish people looking out for their own self-interest might start cutting deals with each other outside of the government’s medical system, without the government’s knowledge or approval.  If too many sick people received organs, they would live longer than expected, which would put an unnecessary strain on Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security.  Clearly, it is time to go after the organ kingpins.

Paying for organs has been a federal crime since 1984, but people continue to pay for organs on the black market.  People pay for organs because they have value, so our task is to make them less valuable.  One way we could do that is to make it a federal crime to pay for food.  In the War on Drugs, the purchase of the raw materials of drugs (such as marijuana and coca plants, chemicals used in meth labs and some over-the-counter medication) is illegal, so why not make the purchase of the building blocks of organs illegal as well?  Is it any surprise that with all of this food freely available to anyone who wants to buy it, that some people try to sell their organs?   

Now just because paying for food would be illegal, that doesn’t mean that food wouldn’t be available.  Most people have some land that they could use to grow some food and maybe even raise a few chickens.  It would be like Mao’s Great Leap Forward, only instead of a steel furnace in each back yard, there would be a garden. 

Those people who wanted more food than they could produce on their own land could get on a government waiting list, like people who need an organ do now.  Government officials would decide who would receive how much of what kind of food and when, just like they now decide who will receive which organs and when.  

In the unlikely event that this system resulted in a shortage of food, the government might create limited, temporary financial incentives to encourage people to donate food to the government, just as they do now for organs.  For example, in Georgia, if you agree to donate your organs to the state at your death, you receive a discount on your driver’s license fee of about $7.  So they might offer another discount of $7 if you donate, say, 1,000 bushels of wheat to the state.  People would feel a sense of pride and even patriotism when they saw their driver’s license/national ID card stamped “Food Donor,” just like organ donors do now.  Surely this would eliminate any shortages that might arise as a result of selfish people hoarding all of the food they grew. 

And if it doesn’t, you ask?  Well, consider the terrific results we’ve had with a “white” market in organs: There are only 80,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ (that number is growing by only 14% per year), and only 16 of them die per day.  That’s a small price to pay to have an ethical system where people aren’t exploited.  Besides, if some people die while waiting for food, that will alleviate the small, temporary shortage of organs.  Problem solved!  See?  The market would never come up with such a solution—only a government official could think of that.  

It’s time we put people ahead of profits and took greed out of food.  Just as we can’t allow people to sell their organs like they were a piece of meat in some slaughterhouse, we can’t allow people to buy food because they might try to fatten themselves up for the kill on the black market.  Having all of these grocery stores and restaurants around is like putting a high school chemistry class in a meth lab; only trouble can result.  So trade in your shopping cart for a hoe and your Kroger card for a government ration card.  Any other system is unethical.

Your rating: None
strike's picture
Columns on STR: 33

Strike edits Strike The Root.