Be careful what you wish for

Here’s the latest example of Passport‘s obsession with organ donation stories. Der Spiegel reports on an unexpected consequence of China cutting back on executions as part of its image-polishing efforts for the 2008 Beijing Olympics: According to a report last week in the daily Chosun Ilbo, the already long list of South Koreans waiting for ...

602968_070328_execution_05.jpg
602968_070328_execution_05.jpg

Here's the latest example of Passport's obsession with organ donation stories. Der Spiegel reports on an unexpected consequence of China cutting back on executions as part of its image-polishing efforts for the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

According to a report last week in the daily Chosun Ilbo, the already long list of South Koreans waiting for organs is getting longer -- with the number expected to top 10,000 by the beginning of the month -- and their chances of getting a transplant are getting slimmer with China having decided to ban organ exports. In addition, executions in China have dropped sharply since the Chinese New Year in February, meaning that one of the primary sources for exported organs has dried up, organ brokers told the Korea Times.

Because South Koreans traditionally shy away from donating their organs, the situation for the seriously ill in the country looks grim. Furthermore, prices for organs have skyrocketed, with kidneys now going for $37,000 whereas prior to China stiffening organ export rules a kidney could have been had for $27,000. China has likewise elected to no longer give foreigners priority when it comes to organ transplant waiting lists.

Here’s the latest example of Passport‘s obsession with organ donation stories. Der Spiegel reports on an unexpected consequence of China cutting back on executions as part of its image-polishing efforts for the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

According to a report last week in the daily Chosun Ilbo, the already long list of South Koreans waiting for organs is getting longer — with the number expected to top 10,000 by the beginning of the month — and their chances of getting a transplant are getting slimmer with China having decided to ban organ exports. In addition, executions in China have dropped sharply since the Chinese New Year in February, meaning that one of the primary sources for exported organs has dried up, organ brokers told the Korea Times.

Because South Koreans traditionally shy away from donating their organs, the situation for the seriously ill in the country looks grim. Furthermore, prices for organs have skyrocketed, with kidneys now going for $37,000 whereas prior to China stiffening organ export rules a kidney could have been had for $27,000. China has likewise elected to no longer give foreigners priority when it comes to organ transplant waiting lists.

It’s an odd and meaningless coincidence that around 10,000 South Koreans need organs, while China executes more than 10,000 people each year (according to Human Rights Watch). But—and perhaps I’m just suffering from brain damage and have therefore lost my moral moorings—one thought that popped into my head while reading the above story was: Is there an actual policy dilemma here? 

STR/AFP

Of course, explicitly taking one life to save another is reprehensible. Once you start down that road, all kinds of perverse outcomes can result. China executes more than its fair share of innocent victims, and doles out the death penalty in many cases that don’t fit the crime. Still, it’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine what the optimal Chinese execution rate would be in an abstract utilitarian universe. I suspect that someone else out there has taken the idea quite seriously, however—and that’s a disturbing thought.

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