A Matter of Priority: Transplanting Organs Preferentially to Registered Donors

Rutgers Law Review 55 (3):671-739 (2003)
Thousands die each year in the United States alone due to a severe shortage of organs available for transplantation. In this article, I propose that we encourage people to register to donate organs upon death by offering them some priority to receive an organ should they need one during life. Such an incentive would save lives by encouraging many more people to donate, yet would not violate federal laws that prohibit organ donors from receiving financial compensation. In addition, I describe how priority incentives could, in theory, be structured to guarantee a distribution of organs that is pareto superior to our current one. I respond to critics who say that priority incentives would weaken the altruistic nature of our current donation scheme and would unacceptably commodify the human body. A fuller conception of our property interests in cadaver organs, I argue, reveals the error of elevating such organs to a special place of honor reserved for property that should be inalienable through market-style exchange.
Keywords organ donation  bioethics  transplantation  distributive justice  pareto superiority
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