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Organs and Babies (and Baby Organs, oh my!)

It's very popular to make selling some things illegal. Popular, but wrong.

You can donate a kidney, but you can't sell one. Anyone who has half-slept through Econ 101 could tell you that this price ceiling holds down the supply of kidneys. People die waiting for kidney transplants that they could easily get if there were a real market for kidneys.

I know, I know, everyone's worried about kidney selling creating vast criminal gangs of organ-snatchers. That's why this market has been blocked on the demand side, too: there's a waiting list to get a kidney, and you can't pay to jump the queue.

But the organ-snatching scare story is silly. It lets some people feel good about condemning others to death, but it isn't a realistic fear. Everybody involved in the transplant operation — donor, recipient, and surgeons on both sides — understand that to prevent organ-snatching they must require a clear chain of custody for the kidney. They must verify that the donor is selling the kidney voluntarily and that the donor is the one who gets paid for it. Refuse any kidney that doesn't meet these criteria.


On to a more shocking example. It's illegal to sell a baby:

Chau told detectives that her boyfriend had returned to China, and she sold the baby because she was destitute and needed money.

Chau was charged with tampering with public records, falsifying business records, child abandonment and endangering the welfare of a child.

It doesn't look like there's any specific law against baby-selling but she's clearly being prosecuted for related acts. People think it's absolutely abhorrent to sell a baby. But giving a baby up for adoption is totally fine, and even encouraged for people in this mother's situation.

Selling a baby, unlike selling a kidney, isn't a life-or-death matter. But other that that the two scenarios aren't so different.

I wonder if whether the thing that truly upsets people about these situations is merely the fact that money is involved. Giving up a kidney or a baby for free is morally praiseworthy. Giving up a kidney or a baby for money is terrible and anyone who would do it is evil. Why do people cling so stubbornly to anti-profit bias in these cases when the pursuit of profit is otherwise (at least grudgingly) tolerated?

I think that opening organ donation and adoption to money and profit would improve the lives of the people who would take part. The current restrictions on these activities are, after all, preventing voluntary transactions.


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