The Organ Crisis

LONDON – Organ transplantation is one of the most impressive achievements of modern medicine. It has brought hope to millions of patients suffering from previously fatal organ failure. For many, it has made life longer and better.

It has benefited many professionals and industries, too, by becoming a new source of pride, funding, and profit. Struggling to contain costs, health-care payers are also among its beneficiaries. Kidney transplantation, for example, has proved to be less costly than dialysis.

Yet, since its inception, transplant medicine has been grappling with a rapidly increasing gap between the supply of organs and demand for them. For most stakeholders, the often dire consequences gave rise to a whole set of solutions, all based on one general strategy: if we are short of organs, then let us get more of them.

This strategy has come with a high price tag, however. On the one hand, it has given rise to some exceptionally corrupt practices, such as organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and many other ugly phenomena associated with a black market in organs. On the other hand, it has put transplant ethics under severe strain.