The Indian Government has now slapped a punishment of imprisonment for professional blood donors. Anyone who sells his blood for money will be sentenced to three months imprisonment. What is more, the license of the blood bank will be forfeited. Full story here.
The rationale is that professional blood donors often are the worst sources of blood. They donate repeatedly, within days of the previous one, with their own body running short of the life-source. They do this simply because they need the money for sustenance. Many a time, they need the extra cash for drugs or alcohol. Blood from these people is liable to be tainted with HIV or hepatitis viruses.
So, all in all, this looks like one good move by the Indian Government, doesn’t it?
Not really, no. I think this is another idiotic act.
Professional blood donors may contribute as much as up to 30-40% (figures of uncertain veracity) of donated blood. India is chronically short of blood. People die because of lack of blood, following blood loss in accidents, shootouts, and surgeries. Is attacking the existence of these people going to do Indians any good when they need blood?
Around 6% of HIV and hepatitis cases are said to be due to transfusion of tainted blood. Is donation by professional donors the problem? Or is the failure of the Blood Banks in detecting these infected samples the problem? It is clearly the latter. The failure of the State in enforcing its own laws and the judgments of the Supreme Court have led to this mess. As it is, the country suffers from a major shortage of blood products. How has the decade-old ban on professional blood donors helped the problem? Have transfusion-related complications come down?
The problem with tainted blood is underlined by several other major deficiencies of Indian society. One is the abysmal standards of education, resulting in a huge lack of trained technicians to man the Blood Banks. Another is the poor state of the legal defence system, because of which unscrupulous private blood banks are left scot free even after failing in their duty to provide for safe transfusion.
A trade is a voluntary activity between individuals. One’s body and its components are one’s own property. If one cannot dispose of them or treat them as per one’s conscious choice, then who has the right to do so? The Courts? Whom are the courts protecting, and why? From the looks of it, this ban on organ trade seems to be a case of the Law deciding to protect the citizen from his own self!
Not surprisingly, countries the world over are squeamish in acknowledging the property rights of the individual to his organs. Take the recently publicised case of donor eggs in the ‘surrogate motherhood’ issue. It is illegal in the US and UK to sell your egg, though you are free to donate it.
Here is a Wikipedia entry on organ trade:
In compensated donation, donors get money or other compensation in exchange for their organs.
In the United States, The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 made organ sales illegal; regulation by the OPTN has probably eliminated organ sales. In the United Kingdom, the Human Tissue Act 1961 made organ sales illegal.
Recent development of web sites and personal advertisements for organs among listed candidates has raised the possibility of selling organs once again, as well as sparking significant ethical debates over directed donation, “good-Samaritan” donation, and the current U.S. organ allocation policy.
Two books, Kidney for Sale By Owner by Mark Cherry (Georgetown University Press, 2005); and Stakes and Kidneys: Why markets in human body parts are morally imperative by James Stacey Taylor: (Ashgate Press, 2005); advocate using markets to increase the supply of organs available for transplantation.
In 2006, Iran became the only country to allow individuals to sell their kidneys, and the market price is US$2,000 to US$4,000. The Economist and the Ayn Rand Institute approve, and advocated a legal market elsewhere. They argued that if 0.06% of Americans between 19 and 65 were to sell one kidney, the national waiting list would disappear (which, the Economist wrote, happened in Iran). The Economist argued that donating kidneys is no more risky than surrogate motherhood, which can be done legally for pay in most countries.
Two European conferences in 2007 recommended against the sale of organs. In Pakistan, 40 percent to 50 percent of the residents of some villages have only one kidney because they have sold the other for a transplant into a wealthy person, probably from another country, said Dr. Farhat Moazam of Pakistan, at a World Health Organization conference. Pakistani donors are offered $2,500 for a kidney but receive only about half of that because middlemen take so much. In Chennai, southern India, poor fishermen and their families sold kidneys after their livelihoods were destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago. about 100 people, mostly women, sold their kidneys for 40,000-60,000 rupees ($900-$1,350). Thilakavathy Agatheesh, 30, who sold a kidney in May 2005 for 40,000 rupees said, “I used to earn some money selling fish but now the post-surgery stomach cramps prevent me from going to work.” Most kidney sellers say that selling their kidney was a mistake.
Clearly, vultures exploit the miseries of the poor people who are cheated in this transaction. That, in itself, does not mean the trade is unethical. The cheating of the donor is what is unethical. However, these examples are often the reasons public sentiment is stirred up to implement bans of the kind in question.
David Holcberg argues in The Economist article:
If the law recognises our right to give away an organ, it should also recognise our right to sell an organ (as long as there is no coercion involved). Those who could afford to buy organs would benefit at no one’s expense but their own. Those unable to pay would still be able to rely on charity, as they do today. If the government upheld these rights, many of the thousands of people now waiting for organs would be spared hideous suffering and an early death. How many? There is only one way to find out: set these people free.
Blood donation for pay is one example of trade in body parts. The larger ethical issues seem to be all solved, and the world seems to have embraced the philosophy of control of the individual’s rights to his own decisions. Therein lies a deep malady!