I think that people ought to be able to sell their kidneys. Especially poor people. My reasoning here is simple. By and large, we don’t really need the second kidney. It is an extremely useful back up, but strictly speaking my understanding is that we can get along well with out it. Basically, it is an insurance policy. Now, there are people who need kidneys, more people than there are kidneys, as it happens. I think that the poor should be able to sell their extra kidney to make some extra money. Forbidding them from doing so — as current law does — is rather like forcing them to pay for a very expensive insurance policy when they are having trouble making ends meet. They are poor and they have a potential source of wealth making them less poor. Let them sell it, I say.
Now there are lots of objections that can be made to this. They range from Coma-esque hypotheticals about killing people off in order to harvest their organs, (not a big worry I say, and easily guarded against) to stolid arguments about social welfare (for example, there is evidence to suggest that the UK does a better job of filling up its blood banks on an all-volunteer basis than does the US on a pay-for-plasma basis). There are also the mushy-headed arguments about the horrors of commidifiying the human body and the terrible way in which we commercialize something as sacred and personal as kidneys. To which I say, go make the argument to the starving masses yearning to sell off their kidneys or those who but for the rule against selling kidneys would not spend their lives on a dialysis machine. Better yet, make the argument to a college seminar, just let people sell off their kidneys to pay tuition!
Actually, the mushy-headed argument is what interests me. The arguments about organ availability and potentially perverse incentives are mainly empirical matters, and we are probably best off leaving such “boring” questions to social scientists who have the expertise to deal with them. (Unless, of course, the social scientist disagrees with me, and then to hell with my deference to your technocracy!) The mushy-headed argument forces us to ask the question about inalienability, whether there are certain entitlements — like those to our organs — that we should neither be deprived of nor allowed to deprive ourselves of (or perhaps just sell). Some time ago, we had a conversation about whether or not Mormonism had anything to add to this debate. We discussed the example of priesthood. The scriptures are pretty clear (Simon, the Book of Acts and all that) on the subject. You can’t buy or sell the priesthood. The problem is that this ends up being less useful for general debates about inalienability than one might hope. We basically came to the conclusion that the priesthood was inherently inalienable because whatever a purported seller of the priesthood might confer on an interested buyer would not really be the priesthood. The problem is that selling kidneys is conceptually easy to imagine. The kidney conferred in such a sale would be a real kidney. So other than Simon, are there any scriptural stories about inalienability that we can use to leverage the mushy-headed argument against kidney sales? If not, should Russell admit defeat, sell his copies of Lasch and begin reading Hayek?