J Med Ethics 29:137-138 doi:10.1136/jme.29.3.137
  • Debate
  • Controversy

An ethical market in human organs

  1. Charles A Erin,
  2. John Harris
  1. Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor John Harris, Institute of Medicine, Law, and Bioethics, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; 
  • Accepted 25 March 2003

While people’s lives continue to be put at risk by the dearth of organs available for transplantation, we must give urgent consideration to any option that may make up the shortfall. A market in organs from living donors is one such option. The market should be ethically supportable, and have built into it, for example, safeguards against wrongful exploitation. This can be accomplished by establishing a single purchaser system within a confined marketplace.

Statistics can be dehumanising. The following numbers, however, have more impact than most: as of 24th November, during 2002 in the United Kingdom, 667 people have donated organs, 2055 people have received transplants, and 5615 people are still awaiting transplants.1 It is difficult to estimate how many people die prematurely for want of donor organs. “In the world as a whole there are an estimated 700 000 patients on dialysis . . . . In India alone 100 000 new patients present with kidney failure each year”2 (few if any of whom are on dialysis and only 3000 of whom will receive transplants). Almost “three million Americans suffer from congestive heart failure . . . deaths related to this condition are estimated at 250 000 each year . . . …

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