Bet on Science: Transplantation Without Human Donation

Rhett Schwichtenberg, MJLST Staffer

There is no question that the American organ donor process is flawed. An individual makes the selfless decision to become an organ donor, but upon death their organs remain in their body.  Although the law states that the donor is the only person that can revoke an anatomical gift, hospital practice will almost never harvest an organ without the family’s consent. A recent article published in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology has proposed a solution to the 120,000 Americans waiting for organs: paying the donor $5,000 per organ. This solution could have many positive impacts, but many negative ones as well.

First, this solution will have a strong influence on the socio-economically poor, as an individual could make up to $40,000 for their family by donating the eight organs currently eligible for donation (not including hands and face, added in 2014). This amount of money would put low-income families in a horrible position where they might choose to forego medical treatment in order to provide for their family. This reward manages to take the decision away from the socio-economically poor by incentivizing death. Though middle-class individuals might also elect to choose money over treatment, the decision is based more on want than on need.

Second, with advancing technologies, organs harvested from fatalities will become less frequent. Take, for instance, the new technology of self-driving cars. In the near future, self-driving cars will dominate the automotive industry. Given that in 2016, 13.6 percent of organ donors died in a road accident, the number of available organs will only decrease in years to come. In a very recent article, Elon Musk stated that nearly all new cars will be self-driving within ten years.

Although self-driving cars might be farther down the road than Musk declared, scientists have made a major breakthrough in the biological field. Researchers have successfully used an enzyme to integrate human stem cells into developing pig embryos. This technology makes it possible to edit a pig’s DNA sequence coding for a certain organ, and insert code that would “theoretically grow a human organ for patient transplantation.” Artificially creating human organs would single-handedly eliminate the need for organ donation.

In addition to biological advancements, the tech industry has been a major player in organ creation. The use of 3D printing in the medical industry was instantly commercialized for its ability to create prosthetics and fake organs to practice surgical procedures. Today, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has developed a 3D printer capable of “print[ing] tissues and organs by utilizing cells as the main filament or component of the 3D printer.” Using an individual’s own cells to 3D print new organs for them would also eliminate the need for organ donation.

With such large advancements in science and technology, I do not believe there is a need to incentivize organ donation. This would result in a disparity between rich and poor and create situations where an individual has to choose between life or death for all the wrong reasons. Until science reaches the point where human organs can be created, individuals who wish to donate their organs upon death need to take steps to ensure their wish is fulfilled. Such steps include preparing an advance directive or a living will, signing a donor card, obtaining a health care power of attorney, and informing family members of their decision. Paying someone for their organs is simply not the solution.

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