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Kidney Gymnastics

It is against federal law to receive anything of value in return for donating a kidney. The result is the following kind of absurd kidney gymnastics reported by Forbes:

It took 12 surgeons, six operating rooms and five donors to pull it off,
but five desperate strangers simultaneously received new organs in what
hospital officials Monday described as the first-ever quintuple kidney

Four of the sick patients had approached Johns Hopkins with a
relative who was willing to donate a kidney but was an incompatible
donor. The fifth had been on a waiting list for a kidney from a dead

Together, those nine people and an "altruistic donor" had enough matched kidneys among them to pull off a five-way swap.

altruistic donor, Honore Rothstein, decided to donate a kidney after
losing her husband and daughter to accidents and illness, Vohr said.
She did not know any of the donors or recipients.

In a live-donor practice used increasingly in the U.S. over the past
few years, a patient who needs a kidney is matched up with a compatible
stranger if the patient lines up a friend or relative willing to donate
an organ to a stranger, too.

Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of
Hopkins’ transplant center and head of the transplant team, called
Monday for a national kidney-swap program, saying it could help ease
the nation’s shortage of transplant organs and cut costs by getting
people off dialysis.

He noted, however, that live-donor kidney
swaps present ethical problems for some institutions since federal law
prohibits receiving something of value in exchange for an organ. Some
institutions feel multiple arrangements come uncomfortably close to
quid pro quo, Montgomery said. He called for a clarification of the law.

What a bizarre definition of ethics. Try and explain that one to your kids. I can’t.

Here is my podcast with Richard Epstein on the topic.


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