To This We Have Been Reduced – Organ Barter

The American medical system is a shambles. This is not news to anyone who deals with a chronic illness or who has experienced a serious medical incident. And no class of people have it more rough than those who, for whatever reason, are waiting for an organ transplant. Chronic shortages of organs, baroque systems for matching donors to recipients, omnipresent (but rarely discussed) favoritism toward the wealthy and the famous, all combine to make the organ location and donation process a nightmare.

So now…desperate patients and their families are turning to the equivalent of ‘organ personals’ for locating available, and altruistic, donors because, in the US at least, federal law makes the sale of one’s organs a crime—a safeguard that is supposed to remove any advantage that the wealthy might enjoy. (Though, the ability to spend money on the search for a compatible donor gives the wealthy an inherent advantage.)

And predictably, mechanisms like Craigslist bring out the wackos who are willing to trade their organs if the price is right, federal law be damned. An artist offers his kidney in exchange for the purchase of $250,000 worth of his paintings. A foreigner offers his kidney in exchange for relocation to the United States, all expenses paid.

In this economy, one has to ask how long it will be before the the necessities of life—food, shelter, heat—become the commodities that one’s organs might purchase. Sounds like some kind of extreme dystopian nightmare, right? Sure it does, but who could have imagined that someone would trade their kidney for an all expense paid trip to a country on the verge of a financial ‘Dark Age’?

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12 thoughts on “To This We Have Been Reduced – Organ Barter”

  1. Lew… The article is pretty clear on how dire the situation really is. Setting aside the bias in the system, survivability rates for transplants done with organs from the recently deceased are much lower (and survival times shorter) than for transplants done with organs form live donors. So…in grisly way, your observation may be more true than it seems at first.

    WINS… “Fresh young liver, non-drinker, seeks well off older host for quiet evenings, weekends in the country, and vacations in the Seychelles.”

  2. Ooops. Lost a comment so if you find another please delete it after the rewrite.

    Speaking of wackos, I spent some years working in a urology dept and we’d often have young guys call wanting to donate (read sell) a testicle. My favorite response was to ask what they expected the doctors to do with them The other was to tell them we’d only take the whole package :-)

  3. Over half of the 100,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year. Over 6,000 of our neighbors suffer and die needlessly every year as a result.

    There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage — give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren’t willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

    Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

  4. Hey Randal… I’m sure that Guiliani is going to refer to the poor receiving a transplant as ‘organ welfare’ any day now.

    Susan… Welcome to Ragebot. Is there even such a thing as a ‘testicle transplant’? :-) Or maybe it’s just some idiot who took his friends saying, “That guys got some balls!” seriously.

  5. Dave… I really like that idea of giving preference to those willing to donate themselves. But let me ask question: Aren’t most people on the list for a transplant list ineligible to donate themselves? I thought it had something to do with the viability of organs from those who are already sick…or something like that.

  6. Dear Kvatch:

    The point isn’t to get people who already know they need transplants to register as organ donors. The point is to get everyone who might someday need a transplant to register as organ donors. If you’re willing to accept a transplant, you should sign up to be a donor. It’s not fair to take if you’re not willing to give.

    If you like the idea of giving preference to those willing to donate, please join LifeSharers at

  7. Dave… Of course, your right. Encouraging the rest of us to get on the list is paramount. The Frogette and I have been registered doners for a couple of decades now. I’ll check out the links.

  8. No, they don’t use real ones but one of the docs did have what appeared to be a set of prayer beads that were different shapes and sizes. When I asked him he said it was so they could compare for replicas.

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