A great many of our most polarizing political discussions involve deciding what we should be able to sell. Pot legalization, for instance, is oftentimes framed as a debate over whether we should be able to smoke marijuana cigarettes at our leisure. But that debate’s over. It’s been won by the High Times crowd a thousand times over, no matter how many times a kid gets popped on a possession rap. No, the schism involves the sale of weed. The business of it. News articles about Colorado are less interested in doofuses smoking pot and more interested in the brave, new world of pot dispensaries. The business of America is business and all that.
This weekend brought news of a burgeoning overseas market in human organs. And gay eyeballs. If you can’t see the connection, allow me…
Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece on Israel’s insatiable appetite for harvesting human organs. Specifically, it was a story about the international market for kidneys and how Israelis reside at the center of said market. While the individual stories of kidney mongering are interesting in their own right, this suffices as a summary of the situation:
A broker who trades in human organs might seem a difficult thing to find. But Ms. Dorin’s mother began making inquiries around the hospital where she worked, and in short order the family came up with three names: Avigad Sandler, a former insurance agent long suspected of trafficking; Boris Volfman, a young Ukrainian émigré and Sandler protégé; and Yaacov Dayan, a wily businessman with interests in real estate and marketing.
The men were, The New York Times learned during an investigation of the global organ trade, among the central operators in Israel’s irrepressible underground kidney market. For years, they have pocketed enormous sums for arranging overseas transplants for patients who are paired with foreign donors, court filings and government documents show.
People need kidneys. The three Israeli traffickers operate in legal gray and black areas in order to get people these kidneys. If you wake up tomorrow in a bathtub full of ice, Avigad, Boris, and Yaacov are probably who you want to interrogate.
Now, the reason that any of this is news has to do with our squeamishness about free markets for body parts. Some argue that a market like this preys on the poor and uneducated. The Times piece mentions Sri Lanka and Costa Rica as hotbeds for kidney sales.
But 8 years ago, the human-like legal scholar Richard Posner tackled the question of organ sales. He was, predictably, for it. Here he is puzzling at how moronic everyone else is:
The legal ban on the sale of organs is part of a broader social policy of limiting “commodification,” or propertization, of many valuable goods and services: or in other words of limiting the scope of the free market. Among such limitations that command essentially universal assent in our society: people may not agree to engage in gladiatorial contests in which they fight for the death, to sell themselves into slavery, to agree to have their knees broken if they default on a loan, to buy certain mind-altering drugs, to buy or sell sex, or to sell their parental rights. The grounds that are offered for these various limitations on the free market often have a certain plausibility, but do not seem adequate to explain the revulsion that the idea of the prohibited transactions arouse in most people. The transactions may have third-party effects or be the product of ignorance, shortsightedness, or lack of self-control, but this is true of many transactions that are permitted, such as drinking alcohol and gambling. It seems that the prohibited transactions are prohibited because they are highly offensive to nonparticipants; why they are highly offensive remains to be explained.
He goes on to suggest a system of enforceable contracts that would grease the skids for organ transplants. But this is a rather milquetoast plan. One that isn’t brash enough. One that doesn’t… involve gay eyeballs.
Friday, Slate published a story on the bizarre journey of a dead gay teenager’s various body parts. The boy, who had committed suicide after being bullied, wanted his various and sundry parts donated. Oddly, while his heart and other parts went to needy recipients, his eyeballs were discarded due to the FDA’s longstanding prohibition on organ donations from men who have had sex with men in the previous five years. Here, a takedown of the policy:
The FDA’s anti-gay organ policies spring from the same insanely homophobic casuistry behind their anti-gay blood ban: an outdated, utterly irrational belief that all gay men are HIV-ridden disease vectors. Never mind that modern HIV tests can detect the virus from the moment of infectiousness, or that men who have sex with HIV-positive women and sex workers are only deferred for a year—or that a categorical ban on gays is just plain bad science. Other countries may lift their own gay blood bans, and medical experts may urge the FDA to revise its policies. But here in America, gay men’s bodies are still seen as blighted, dangerous, and infected.
This is horrible as a matter of basic fairness and decency. But it is GREAT as an opportunity to stanch Israel’s bloodthirsty need for human body parts! This dumb, homophobic country is throwing away something that others would pay quite handsomely for!
It’s not often that you find an arbitrage opportunity for homosexual eyeballs, but when you do… well, you don’t need to be Ivan Boesky to recognize a fantastic opportunity for profit. And charity, because, let’s face it, this modest proposal of mine could save thousands or millions of lives. I don’t know, I’m neither a mathematician nor particularly well-read. But I think I’ve probably figured out how to pay off my student loans. To say nothing of how I’ve just solved perhaps the greatest problem facing the Middle East today.
In the comments, feel free to nominate me for a Nobel.
Transplant Brokers in Israel Lure Desperate Kidney Patients to Costa Rica [New York Times]
Organ Sales–Posner’s Comment [The Becker-Posner Blog]
Dead Teen’s Organ Donation Rejected Because He Was Gay [Slate]