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A Free Market in Human Organs

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The liver transplant performed on former baseball great Mickey Mantle last year gives us an opportunity to review and challenge the statist notion that it is perfectly fine for an individual to donate a human organ to another person but sinister and evil, not to mention illegal, to sell it for profit.

Recall that a mild protest developed after Mantle received his transplant only days after medical authorities diagnosed that he needed one in order to survive. The protest centered on the belief that due to his notoriety, Mantle was afforded preferential treatment over others who had waited longer or, for medical reasons, were deemed more deserving. Never, apparently, did anyone question the notion that public officials have the legitimate power to prevent free people from offering their organs for sale on the open market — a move that undoubtedly would save thousands of lives every year.

Government officials argue that if organ transfers were left to the free market, evil results would ensue. The worst-case scenario apparently is that people would begin murdering others and stealing their body parts, in order to profit from the sale of their organs. If this was a valid concern, however, then all life insurance would have to be banned under the same type of reasoning; after all, life insurance offers a much better incentive to pursue murder for profit.

Statist arguments are often based on the belief that if only one person is saved from harm or “exploitation,” then government intervention is justified. I refer to this as the “perfectionist fallacy”: if any peaceful, voluntary activity undertaken outside government control does not provide “perfect” results, as judged by government officials, then the activity must be banned or strictly controlled. Sacrificing thousands of people each year who otherwise would have lived is apparently not too high a price to pay.

This type of inverse utilitarian reasoning is used by the state to justify intervening in medicine, the environment, safety, and many other parts of our lives. Not only do such interventions deny freedom to the individual but, inexplicably, they champion the interests of the few over the many in life-and-death situations.

The Food and Drug Administration uses this type of argument to prevent people who are dying from AIDS, heart disease, and other afflictions from using unapproved drugs. Apparently, their imminent death is preferable to the possibility of harm that these medications may cause.

Issues of freedom, however, should not be decided by utilitarian analysis. While empirical evidence is often useful as a persuasive tool for supporting the freedom arguments, it must always be subordinate to the moral justification for freedom.

Simply stated, the moral justification is this: each adult owns his body and thus has the absolute right to make all decisions regarding it, providing he abstains from using force or fraud on others. You may find the idea of people buying and selling human organs in a free market to be repulsive for any number of reasons. But you have no right to use either personal force or governmental force to stop them, anymore than they have the right to interfere with your peaceful activities that they judge repulsive.

As with all peaceful activities, it is time to end the ban on the purchase and sale of human organs and to allow a free market, rather than government officials, to determine who receives transplants. If this is done, not only will we have regained one of our lost freedoms, we will, at the same time, be saving thousands of lives that will otherwise be lost at the altar of government regulation for the public good.

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    Mr. Brown, a Freedom Daily subscriber, resides in Massillon, Ohio.