Selling Kidneys in Singapore

Business ethics isn’t just about how businesses conduct themselves while selling goods and services. It’s also about what sorts of things should, and shouldn’t, be sold in the first place. There are a few things that most people believe cannot, ethically, be sold. For many people, the organs of a living person are high on that list. What could be more abhorrent, critics ask, than the idea of offering someone money &mdash filthy lucre — in exchange for a part of their very body?

Well, in that regard, see this story, from Singapore: Kidney law to change

From early next year, the law will be changed to allow compensation for live kidney donors.

The amount should not be so large that it’s seen as inducement, said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan when he announced it yesterday.

Both the World Health Organisation and countries like the United States say it is ethical to compensate donors, so they do not suffer for their act of altruism.

Mr Khaw said the amount of compensation is not ‘hard wired’ into legislations of countries such as the US, Britain and Australia that allow it. Singapore will follow suit.

He hinted that the sum will be at least five figures, and possibly six. The actual amount of just compensation will be left to a committee, which will be set up to look into this.

Now, to be precise, what Singapore is proposing here is not exactly the selling of kidneys on an open market. But it’s arguably a move in that direction. Is that a good move, or a bad one?

On the issue of kidney sales, I’ve been convinced, despite myself, by James Stacey Taylor’s 2005 book, Stakes And Kidneys: Why Markets In Human Body Parts Are Morally Imperative. Taylor argues very effectively that allowing carefully controlled sales of kidneys is a win-win idea, good for donors and recipients alike. Cries of “exploitation” are unconvincing. Once fraud, extortion, and deceit are ruled out (Taylor is proposing a highly regulated market) all that’s left of charges of exploitation is a kind of paternalism and wishful thinking about the sorts of choices poor people shouldn’t have to make.

(I’ve blogged about this before. See: Black Market Kidneys)

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