Legalise Organ Trading?

The government is currently looking into legalising organ trading in Singapore.  Read in the papers that the only country in the world where organ trading is legal is in Iran.  This stemmed from the US sanctions against Iran making it difficult for Iran to import dialysis equipment and the long war Iran fought with Iraq and thus the Iranian government devised an "organ sharing" scheme which is fully government run (doctors, hospitals, etc, are all on the govt’s payroll).  The govt compensates the donor for his/her "altruism" and provides health insurance for the donor as well.  A "gift" may also be given by the recipient to the donor for the "love gift" aka the kidney.

While there are certain pros to having a govt-run scheme – the poor is also eligible for an organ transplant, transplants are regulated, the donor gets the full compensation instead of a middleman profiting, etc, there’s no denying the fact that these are still monetary transactions that are taking place. 

In Iran, it takes about 1-2 years for a kidney donor to be found.  The average in Singapore is about 9 years and given that many kidney patients in need of a transplant have a life span of 5 years, many do not survive the waiting period.  It is a known fact that those who can afford often travel to emerging markets (China, India, Philippines, Indonesia and the like) to procure a kidney.  The most unfair part about these black market transactions is that the organ broker often takes the biggest cut of the payment and the donor is exploited. 

During lunch a couple of days ago, a senior colleague spoke strongly for the case of legalising organ trading in Singapore.  While I really don’t know how right or wrong this is – how does one put a value on a human organ vs. how can one not save another’s life – what struck me deepest was when my colleague said, "If we can allow abortions to take place, how can we not allow organ trading?  What gives us the right to rob the life of an unborn child and then get moralistic and ban organ trade?  At least the organ transplant will save another person’s life".

I’ve been thinking about this and I have no conclusion what is the right thing to do.  Perhaps an Iranian doctor summarised it best when he said – the world chooses to see this as a cup half empty but we choose to see it as a cup half filled.