The news media has been full of reports concerning the arrests of more than 40 people folllowing a corruption investigation in New Jersey. Among the more startling aspects of the story are the allegations that those arrested were involved in the trafficking of human kidneys. An op-ed by Sally Satel in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, provided an interesting take on the story. Satel argued that the extreme lack of available kidneys for those on transplant lists make this type of black market all but inevitable. She wrote:
When I needed a kidney several years ago and had no donor in sight, I would have considered doing business with someone like Mr. Rosenbaum. The current law—the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984—gave me little choice. I would be a felon if I compensated a donor who was willing to spare me years of life-draining dialysis and premature death.
The illicit organ trade is booming across the globe. It will only recede when the critical shortage of organs for transplants disappears. The best way to make that happen is to give legitimate incentives to people who might be willing to donate. Instead, I fear that Congress will merely raise the penalties for underground organ sales without simultaneously establishing a legal mechanism to incentivize donors.
Satel concludes by arguing that any new legislation to crack down on organ trafficking should include incentives to increase the availability of organs for transplant recipients.
The point here is not to join the policy debate on organ donor regulation, but rather to recognize the depth of the risks faced by HUS survivors. HUS is a somewhat rare, but devastating complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection. Renal failure is a primary element of the acute stage of HUS. Most of those who develop HUS recover renal function, at least temporarily. Many, however, are left with permanent damage that can eventually necessitate placement on the long transplant lists that Satel describes.