Here's something I don't understand. Recently, commerce on the Internet took a decidedly oblique turn when someone offered a kidney for sale on the eBay auction site. Bidding hit $5.7 million before the company shut down the sale. The reason? It's against eBay's rules to sell body parts! It also happens to be illegal under federal law to sell your own organs; it's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine.
Whether the sale was a prank or in earnest, it certainly seemed like a good deal for the "donor." I mean, 50 Gs, or perhaps a little down time, in order to make almost six mil is a fairly shrewd investment. And think about the buyer. Anyone willing to spend that kind of dough for a working kidney must be in pretty dire straits. After all, the kidney-transplant waiting list in this country is three to five years, so a quick cyberspace transaction with a secure credit card made sense. But some pretty questionable laws got in the way.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a woman who "gave" a kidney to save a young boy's life wound up with more than $5,000 in cash, a used car from a local dealer, and the keys to a public-housing apartment from none other than U.S. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo.
So here's my problem. Why is it OK to give away body parts, but not OK to profit from the sale, except if it's after the fact? In other words, if I will my kidneys to some stranger on the event of my death in an auto accident, I'm a great guy, but if I insist that my widow and children be remunerated for the sale, so that they can survive financially without me, I'm a criminal.
Frankly, I think the selling of body parts is a win-win situation, and may go a long way to reverse the growing disparity in wealth in our fair country. Imagine, if all the restrictions were lifted, the 42,000 people on the nation's kidney-transplant waiting list would be ship-shape in the time it takes to sign on the dotted line and wield a sterile scalpel. In turn, thousands of struggling lower- and middle-class families would be bailed out of economic difficulty, with only a small scar and a new pen-pal to show for it.
Maybe it's the size of the organ that has people squeamish. OK, we can work around that. I predict, in a few more years, scientists will be able to pick off one single healthy kidney cell, nurture it in a cryogenic bath, grow it to full maturity and finally transplant it into an ailing recipient. Anything wrong with that, Mr. Lawmaker? C'mon. Cindy Crawford sells her beauty. Robin Williams sells his wit. In the early '70s my friend Gary cut off and sold his long hair to a wigmaker. Why can't I make a few bucks from one crummy cell?
One cell will be missed a lot less than the bodily fluids we routinely offer for sale. People have been selling their blood for the plasma for years. If you give blood during your community's blood drive, you're a local hero. But the folks who sell it ... well, they're just scum, aren't they? And what about sperm banks?
And let's bring in the distaff side. For years, feminists have insisted that their sovereignty over their bodies is absolute. It's the entire underpinning of the right to choose to end a pregnancy, a right upheld by the Supreme Court. So, if terminating a potential human life is lawful, what's the big deal about a kidney, an organ that can only produce urine? For a country that believes in selling everything that isn't tied down (remember pollution credits?), we have some pretty weird restrictions when it comes to stuff people really own ... like their own flesh and blood.
It gets even more complicated. All over the country, wealthy, childless couples are buying the incubating power of more fecund females, and paying extraordinary sums for the rental fees. The surrogate mothers bring an implanted zygote to term, bear it, and then "give" the child to happy new parents who carry the baby off, as if it came from Wal-Mart. It's all perfectly legal, too. (I'm not sure what the deal is on the sale of breast milk. If you know, tell me.)
So let's not get too bogged down in the ethics of it all. After all, the same doctors who question the morality of an organ transaction that involves money don't seem to flinch when bilking elderly patients of their savings in unneeded tests and unsuccessful procedures.
I say let the free market operate, and let the operations commence. I have the right to sell what's mine, and if someone is willing to pay the price, it ain't nobody's business but my own. So, what's my bid? Who'll be the first to call our 800 number, 422-ORGAN? And hey, for the next five minutes, all callers will receive free -- that's absolutely free -- a full test tube of perfectly healthy semen, from a middle-age, 6-foot-1 Caucasian ... whoa, the lines are lighting up now.
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