A HIGH school friend of mine relocated himself from Minnesota to Seattle four years ago in search of a new pair of lungs.
After a lifetime of work as a business consultant, primarily for chemical plants around the United States, he had lost almost all of his lung capacity. He had coughing fits caused by volumes of fluid in his lungs. He was slowly asphyxiating. He came to Seattle because the University of Washington is known nationally as a leader in double lung transplants and, apparently, the proportionally larger number of organ donors in the Northwest increased his chances of finding a pair that fit him.
Still, he waited almost nine months in a Seattle hotel room, alone, until a young man in Oregon died in a car crash. My friend got his lungs, but his condition had weakened him too much. After just a couple of days feeling well, he lapsed into a coma and died.
Last year, almost 7,000 people died on U.S. waiting lists for hearts, livers and kidneys. More than 100,000 Americans are on similar lists today. Meanwhile, about 2.5 million people die every year nationwide, and almost all of them take their vital and potentially life-saving organs with them.
Instead of being available to people who have another chance at life, such as my friend, these organs get buried or cremated.
The solution, of course, is for more people to become organ donors. But despite decades of awareness, few people sign up.
This has caused Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for The Boston Globe, to propose allowing people to sell their organs for profit. Why not? Jacoby reasons that organ donation is the only aspect of the health-care system entirely free of commercial motivation.
The surgeons who harvest and transplant the organs get paid handsomely. So do the hospitals and the flights services that transport them. So do the drug companies that supply the medications.
More people would sign organ donor cards if they knew their family or estate would benefit. It would increase the supply organs for transplant, and the waiting lists would shorten.
Federal lawmakers have deemed that organ donation must be "altruistic." But Jacoby argues this "is misplaced idealism," which is "anything but humane."