Good Question: Should Organ Donors Be Paid?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There are about 3,000 Minnesotans waiting right now for a organ transplant. There are far more waiting than there are willing to donate an organ voluntarily. So, why not pay people to donate an organ?

Under the law in the U.S., it’s illegal. The National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), which was passed in 1984, makes it illegal to buy and sell organs in the U.S.

The way donation is written into law under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) is as a gift – just like a gift you would make in your will.

“It is viewed as a gift, a donation, a gift from one human being to another,” said Susan Mau Larson, the public affairs director for Life Source, a nonprofit that manages organ donation in this region.

Nationally, 112,000 Americans are waiting for an organ, according to Larson, the majority of them waiting for kidney or liver transplants, which are organs that can be donated by living people.

In 2009, there were just 28,465 organ transplants, and 6,610 living people gave an organ.

“Eighteen people die each day waiting for an organ, and about 100 people are added to the waiting list,” said Larson.

The only way to legally donate is to do it for free. Some do it for a friend, relative or coworker, others like Nicki Hayes do it altruistically.

“I donated a kidney in July of 2010,” said Hayes, whose recipient, Shannon Peterson, was a complete stranger.

“He was down to a few months to live,” she said, and today, “he’s great, he’s healthy!”

Even though Hayes donated out of the goodness of her heart, she’s open to the idea of paying donors.

“It would help. It does, it saves lives,” she said.

However, Larson isn’t sure. She said that some people might be more willing to be a donor if they receive money, but many people who give this gift altruistically might be turned off if the system is monetized.

“We need to better understand why people donate, why people don’t donate,” said Mau Larson.

In the New York Times, Alexander Berger wrote a column arguing “Why Selling Kidneys Should Be Legal”

He proposed changing the 1984 law that bans paying for organs, and setting up regulations that would make sure that the distribution is fair, and not titled to benefit those with money.

“Only the government or a chosen nonprofit would be allowed to purchase the kidneys,” wrote Berger, “and they would allocate them on the basis of need rather than wealth, the same way that posthumously donated organs are currently distributed. The kidneys would be paid for by whoever covers the patient, whether that is their insurance company or Medicare. Ideally, so many donors would come forward that no patient would be left on the waiting list.”

Right now, insurance companies are paying the price for the people who are not getting a transplant. Dialysis treatment for kidney patients can cost up to $100,000 a year. Cutting a check to an organ donor for $50,000 could end up saving insurance companies and Medicare considerable money.

Iran, Singapore and Israel currently have programs where they pay for living organ donations. There have been proposals to change the U.S. law to try to set up pilot programs.

Donating cash might not be the only way, too. Some advocate giving donors choices.

“Maybe life insurance, offer living donors life insurance,” suggested Hayes.

Others have proposed offering health insurance for the life of the donor, or tax incentives.

Susan Mau Larson said this is more than just a theoretical discussion. With the number of people waiting far outpacing the number of people willing to voluntarily donate.

“I think those 112,000 people waiting want to know ‘Why am I waiting?’ Their families want to know ‘is it getting more to put donor on drivers license?’ or are there other means?” she said.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Adam

    How about when you apply for your driver’s license you have to opt out of the donor program by checking the box. Otherwise you are automatically enrolled. I am not sure about the money thing…I mean some that are desparate for money to pay bills will sell a kidney to survive? I am just not sure.

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  • Deb

    As a Living Kidney Donor myself (3 years ago) I do not believe that selling or paying cash for the organ is the proper way to go…I would be more apt to agree with the idea of health insurance or life insurance options. I can tell you that I would do it again in heart beat if I could! It is a wonderful GIFT to give someone “The GIFT of LIFE”!

  • albert

    Isn’t it ironic that old people are being kept alive by the donated organs of the young people whom they run over?

    • kathy

      Back in 1984, leaders in medicine, government and people just walking down the street were far more balanced and rational than what has been true in recent decades. The capacity to think has diminished Conscience was abandoned for corruptive gain. One mental faculty can’t be dismissed without the loss of others. You don’t get something for nothing….

      Danger always exists when you introduce money for body parts. The wealthy can buy longevity and the more desering youth will die as a result.

      My dad passed away ten years ago from heart failure. He was a man of greater financial means, I remember the moment when he asked the cardiologist for a heart transplant at the age of 73. The doctor told him that he was beyond the age of that consideration.

      My dad lived the prime of his life. Put money into the mix, and he might still be,, with us, but someone younger would not.

    • Steve

      As irreverent as your comment is, it made me laugh.

    • Darryl

      Maybe you, Derusha, should talk to someone that’s had am implant for a while. I’ve had mine for 32 years. I have a bit of experience with things.

  • Dave Undis

    As the death toll from the organ shortage mounts, public opinion will eventually support paying for organs in the United States. Changes in public policy will then follow.

    In the mean time, there is an already-legal way to put a big dent in the organ shortage — allocate donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die. UNOS, which manages the national organ allocation system, has the power to make this simple policy change. No legislative action is required.

    Americans who want to donate their organs to other registered organ donors don’t have to wait for UNOS to act. They can join LifeSharers, 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.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. Non-donors should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs. Everyone can offer to donate their organs when they die, no matter what their medical condition or history is.

    David J. Undis
    Executive Director

  • mark

    Well people sell there Plasma for money now,

    • alan

      Plasma regenerates.

      • stung4ever

        So do livers and bone marrow.

  • David

    They should offer to pay for funeral services of some kind. Take away that stress on who pays for it and help save a life all good.

  • Tony Fritz

    Right now, the doctors and hospitals are the only ones profiting from donations. Both of these groups have VERY strong lobbies. Don’t get your hopes up that any change will come to the law that will hurt either of these group’s bottom line.

  • $$$$

    Who sets the price for a kidney or a lung or a heart or an eye? And who pays? The ethics are overwhelming!

  • Common Cents

    In Georgia, you drivers license renewal fee is half of the regular price if you choose to be an organ donor. That 18 bucks I saved also got me thinking about it and has changed me to into someone who would be willing to donate.

    • Mad Dog

      We whipped you in the war grit. Go back to Georgia where you belong. The Norths going to do it again.

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  • Darryl

    I’m not young. I’m not cute. I’m very opinionated re. the medical system, and transplants in particular. I doubt you have the cojones to talk to me.

    • Sue Terry

      Darryl. I will talk to you. what up dude

  • Cut it off for $

    Sign me up for cash payments

  • Sue

    If I could donate a kidney and get my student loans paid off I would totally do it. Women can donate eggs and be paid very well for it, so why stop there?

  • just a girl

    Mo’ money, mo’ problems, right? I don’t care for the idea much, but it would probably work considering the way our society functions right now. If I had to vote on it though, I’d probably say no. However, I think that life insurance or health insurance for life is a great idea. I haven’t had the issue myself, but there have been donors who have been denied one of the other due to the donation. I would fully support that idea.

  • Mark

    While it is OK for me to be a donor (when I die) on my DL. While I am living I can’t make a simple business transaction to make money by selling a A kidney…when I only need one. So since it is my body…I should be able to sell whatever I want.
    Healthy American male.
    200,000.00 for one kidney

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