You may have heard some variation of the story about the tourist who woke up in a hotel bathtub full of ice, in tremendous pain, and missing a kidney. But even though these types of stories are typically just urban legends, the international black market for spare organs is quite real. Having your organs harvested against your will is quite rare, however quite a few people would be tempted to sell an organ if the price was right.
The global organ shortage creates an opportunity for those willing to sell a spare kidney, the lobe of a lung, or even the organs of the deceased. But can you sell an organ? The short answer is no, although you may be fairly compensated for some costs related to your donation.
Organ Scarcity: Statistics
The demand for viable human organs is so high that roughly 20 people in the United States die each day waiting for an organ transplant, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Those with the means to do so can take advantage of "transplant tourism" packages ranging from $70,000 to $160,000, according to the World Health Organization. As you may imagine, this often results in the exploitation of people in poor communities.
Selling Organs: The National Organ Transplant Act
Under the federal National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (NOTA) -- found in Title 42, section 274e of the U.S. Code -- anyone convicted of buying or selling human organs in the United States faces a five-year prison sentence and/or a fine of up to $50,000. Since the language of the law explicitly states that it is a crime for an individual to "knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer" a human organ, it allows safe harbor for those who unknowingly receive an illegally procured organ.
Reimbursement for Donating an Organ
While you may not sell an organ, you may have some of your expenses related to the donation procedure reimbursed. For example, you may claim medical costs and missed pay following the donation of an organ. Different states calculate such payments differently, but anything considered to be unreasonable will not be reimbursed. Specifically, the law states, payment of "expenses of travel, housing, and lost wages incurred by the donor of a human organ in connection with the donation of the organ" is permitted.
However, living donors (those donating a single kidney or a portion of an organ) may not be reimbursed for some of the associated post-operative costs. Also, living donors may experience difficulty maintaining affordable health insurance coverage after such a procedure. Most transplant centers offer the assistance of financial coordinators to help with insurance and related issues.
Keep in mind that your state may offer additional reimbursement for costs associated with organ donation. For instance, some states allow living donors to take tax deductions (up to $5,000 in Kansas) and a few other states (including Louisiana and Utah) offer tax credits of up to $10,000 for donors, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Have Questions About Organ Donation? An Attorney Can Help
No, you can't legally buy (or sell) an organ. But you and your loved ones do have options for getting the medical attention you need. If you have legal concerns about procuring or donating an organ, or other health care law questions, you should speak with an experienced health care attorney near you.