Lessons from John Q and the Need for an Organ Market

In the film “John Q”, John’s son Michael is in need of a heart transplant to live. John quickly finds out obtaining a new heart for Michael is near impossible and his son will likely die waiting for a transplant. Desperate to get the needed heart for his son, John goes to the extreme measure of taking the emergency room in the hospital hostage. John’s only demand is that his son gets the needed heart transplant. However, due to the lack of organs readily available to be transplanted, it appears that his efforts could be futile. After hearing John’s story, some of the hostages in the hospital become sympathetic towards John and even take measures to help him. The film “John Q” demonstrates why a market for organs is needed (and gives an excellent example of Stockholm syndrome!).

Great advancements are being made in the medical field, making operations which require organ donations all the more common. Unfortunately, while the amount of operations that require an organ donation has increased, the supply of available organs has remained stagnant. To put the shortage in perspective, 21 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because there are not enough donated organs.[1] Most people are reluctant to donate; receiving money for organs would solve this problem.

Imagine if people were allowed to sell their organs instead of only donating them. It can be reasonably assumed that more people would be willing to give up their organs if they were compensated for it. If such a market did exist, many people would benefit from it. Dying people waiting for an organ transplant are more than willing to pay for another person’s organ to save their own life. On the other hand, people in need of extra money would most likely be willing to sell their organs – the act of selling plasma has become very common in many college towns. It is true that trade benefits both parties involved and the market for organs is no different. The receiver of the organ benefits by being able to live and the seller benefits by receiving more money than they deem their organ to be worth.

Despite all the benefits an organ market would bring, there is still a large objection to its existence. Critics of an organ market claim it to be immoral and deem it wrong for one to sell their own body. However, the immoral stance is to prevent an organ market which would save lives every day. There is no opposition to organ donations, so why does it become bad once a person is compensated for it? The reality is if people are free to buy and sell organs, fewer people would die waiting for operations and people in need of money would have the option to help save a life while getting compensated in the process.

I chose to use the movie “John Q” as an example for the necessity of an organ market, so one might wonder how a heart could be sold without that transaction requiring a person to die. The answer is the rights to a person’s organ are sold prior to death. If this market was legal, I would be able to sign a contract that would give a firm the exclusive rights to my organs when I die. In turn, the firm would give me money for those rights when I sign the contract. After my death, the firm would sell my organs to patients in need of an organ transplant. Many people view it immoral to profit off of a dying patient’s need of an organ. However, if there is no profit to be made then no market for the said organ would exist and people would die due to a lack of available organs. Additionally, the market helps everyone involved with the transaction. I benefit by receiving money for organs I won’t be using post-mortem, the firm benefits by selling my organs for a profit and patients in need of a transplant benefit from being able to buy life-saving organs that would not have otherwise been available to them.

John Q is an entertaining film that sheds light on the shortage of organs available for transplants. If people were free to buy and sell organs, the existence of such a market would make the plot of the film a lot less plausible. John could obtain the needed heart through a peaceful transaction instead of taking people hostage in the emergency room of a hospital.

[1] http://www.organdonor.gov/about/data.html


One thought on “Lessons from John Q and the Need for an Organ Market

  1. The injustice, in this case, is actually caused by the government prohibition of free exchange. Take a look at Iran. Of all places in the world, Iran has solved the problem of kidney shortages decades ago by legalizing compensation for donations.

    Dr. Sigrid Fry-Revere went to Iran to witness the kidney market market herself and wrote a Must-Read entitled “The Kidney Sellers. A Journey of Discovery In Iran”. http://ethical-solutions.org/projects/thekidneysellers/

    I also did a radio show on the topic of Organ Sales earlier this year. (starts around the 18 min mark after announcements)

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