Of Rich People, Poor People, and Kidneys

Sir Bob Jones has once again attacked his keyboard with a screed that has enough in it to tick almost every even vaguely liberal reader off. This time, he takes on the issue of selling organs, and he does it with his typical grace and style.

He begins his argument with a pot-shot at abortion rights, because everyone knows that the best way to get conservative readers on-side is to throw in some irrelevant anti-abortion rubbish. It’s an obvious case of pandering to his target audience, a tactic to get them nodding their head, with the hope that they will continue right through the article without thinking too deeply.

Mr Jones, abortions are not a matter of ‘trivial inconvenience’, and you’re both uneducated and rude.

He then tries to equate three very different things – abortion, selling hair for wigs, and kidneys for sale. Let’s be very clear – selling hair for wigs (a replaceable resource which harms the donor in no way) and selling kidneys (which you only ever get two of, and losing one is not particularly good for you) are completely different propositions. They are not good parallels. And comparing abortion to selling kidneys because they both involve bodily integrity, is also flawed. Women do not abort so they can get money. It’s a deeply personal decision for each woman, and to compare it to a financial transaction is ridiculous. The issues of bodily integrity do apply to organ donation, because it’s always the donor’s (or their family’s) choice. Bodily autonomy is not an argument for the monetization of organ donation.

We break for another pot-shot at people Bob Jones doesn’t like – this time overweight women and the oddly specific body-modders who wear sunglasses on their heads. Apparently, these people make a mockery of human dignity. Perhaps the only people deserving of basic respect are people just like Bob, because he seems to take swipes indiscriminately at almost everyone else in his various articles.

He turns to the sad realities of the state of organ donation in New Zealand. Around 350 people are waiting for kidneys at them moment, and somewhere around 100-120 donations are made each year. These aren’t good numbers, and it means that there are a whole lots of people tethered to their dialysis regimes. No-one is denying this is bad. But making it about money is not the solution.

The problem with creating a supply and demand kidney economy has several flaws. It privileges the rich – if you’ve got your $15,000 then you can have a kidney, if not, good luck with the waiting list. On the poor side of the equation, $15,000 is a lot of money – it’s more than half of the annual minimum wage – and that’s very tempting. Where once metaphorically¬†the economically privileged built their positions on the bodies of the poor, we could have it literally! This is not a good thing. It’s making quality of life decisions based on wealth – if you don’t have the money for a kidney, well, tough.

Monetizing kidney donations affects our hospital system. If every kidney is worth Bob Jones’ $15,000, then the health system will end up having to pay that for every kidney they transplant on public health money. Our painfully cash-strapped system can’t afford that. And the generous donations they rely on will evaporate if selling kidneys becomes the norm.

Kidney donors are badly needed. But we are not mini-America, and we don’t want our health system looking like theirs. The American model of free-market healthcare is great for the rich, and bankrupts the poor. Let’s not go down that path.

We could advertise for kidney donors the way we advertise for blood donors. We could run awareness campaigns. Most of New Zealand know very little about organ donation in general – if they knew a bit more, then I think that more would be willing to donate, either living or after death. But Mr Jones, take your flawed free-market health care and head off to America without your wealth. It might open your eyes a little.


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