Monday, September 08, 2008

Incentives are not extortion

In a column in today's New Haven Register, Science Editor Abram Katz writes about how to create an incentive for people to donate their organs:

One suggestion is to give potential donors a break if they need an organ. People who agreed to be organ donors would go to the front of the line if they needed organs.

The problem is that if the plan worked, there would be thousands upon thousands of prospective donors. Two lists would develop: one for the reluctant, and another for the professed donors. The "reluctants" would only receive organs after all of the donors were taken care of. That might increase donations, but it smacks of extortion.

By Mr. Katz' logic, any incentive is extortion. Is it extortion to not give a paycheck to someone who refuses to work? Is it extortion to award lottery jackpots only to people who bought tickets?

Even if you agree with Mr. Katz' definition of extortion, you have to ask yourself if a little extortion is justified if it saves lives by increasing organ donations. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year. Most of those organs would be donated, instead of being wasted, if people knew they'd go to the back of the transplant waiting list if they refused to register to donate. As long as we give organs to people who aren't willing to give, we'll always have an organ shortage.

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