Time off for good bone marrow

What’s your kidney worth to you? Prisoners in South Carolina may soon find that one of theirs is worth six months of freedom. In a new bill before the state legislature, prisoners will be given 180 days off their jail sentences if they donate a kidney or bone marrow.  The problem is that U.S. federal ...

603333_070314_kidney_05.jpg
603333_070314_kidney_05.jpg

What's your kidney worth to you? Prisoners in South Carolina may soon find that one of theirs is worth six months of freedom. In a new bill before the state legislature, prisoners will be given 180 days off their jail sentences if they donate a kidney or bone marrow

The problem is that U.S. federal law prohibits giving donors "valuable consideration" in exchange for organs. In other words, patients in need of kidneys (or middlemen) are prohibited from giving donors money or property in order to prevent an organ market from emerging.

So, does freedom count as money or property? Hard to say. But I think the scheme in South Carolina clearly violates the law because it incentivizes donating a kidney in a coercive fashion, just as a monetary payment would. It preys upon the prisoners' situation, in the same way that offering a poor person money for his kidney does. And since prisons are disproportionately full of low-income people, this is just another way of getting one class of society to provide for the health of a wealthier class—the reason why we don't want an organ market in the first place. 

What’s your kidney worth to you? Prisoners in South Carolina may soon find that one of theirs is worth six months of freedom. In a new bill before the state legislature, prisoners will be given 180 days off their jail sentences if they donate a kidney or bone marrow

The problem is that U.S. federal law prohibits giving donors “valuable consideration” in exchange for organs. In other words, patients in need of kidneys (or middlemen) are prohibited from giving donors money or property in order to prevent an organ market from emerging.

So, does freedom count as money or property? Hard to say. But I think the scheme in South Carolina clearly violates the law because it incentivizes donating a kidney in a coercive fashion, just as a monetary payment would. It preys upon the prisoners’ situation, in the same way that offering a poor person money for his kidney does. And since prisons are disproportionately full of low-income people, this is just another way of getting one class of society to provide for the health of a wealthier class—the reason why we don’t want an organ market in the first place. 

Of course, the recipient rolls are still beating out the donor rolls by a mile. Perhaps there should be amendments to the law that allow incentives for dead people. Pennsylvania tried to implement a program a few years ago that would reimburse a person’s family for funeral expenses if the newly deceased became a donor. Donate a kidney, let your family avoid debt for your goodbye party. Everyone’s a winner.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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