Season 3, Episode 5
Since the beginning of civilization, human waste has been considered worthless at best and quite often dangerous. What if it turns out we were wrong? In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, host Stephen Dubner explores the power of poop, focusing on an experimental procedure called a fecal transplant (some call it a “transpoosion”), which may offer promising results not only for intestinal problems but also obesity and neurological disorders. We’ll talk to two doctors at the vanguard of this procedure and a patient who says it changed his life. Read More »
In an attempt to alleviate the shortfall in organs and bone marrow available for transplants, many U.S. states passed legislation providing leave to organ and bone marrow donors and/or tax benefits for live and deceased organ and bone marrow donations and to employers of donors. We exploit cross-state variation in the timing and passage of such legislation to analyze its impact on organ donations by living and deceased persons, on measures of the quality of the organs transplanted, and on the number of bone marrow donations. We find that these provisions did not have a significant impact on the quantity of organs donated. The leave legislation, however, did have a positive impact on bone marrow donations. We also find some evidence of a positive impact on the quality of organ transplants, measured by post-transplant survival rates. Our results suggest that these types of legislation work for moderately invasive procedures such as bone marrow donation, but may be too low for organ donation, which is riskier and more burdensome to the donor.
Are we perhaps inching closer to a legal market in organs?
My wife is helping with a local drive to get people to register to donate organs. We thought that, as a cancer survivor, she herself would not be allowed to register. Wrong. Anyone under age 85 can register, so long as their cancer is not active and they do not have a systemic infection of any kind.
The doctor who informed us says this increases the potential supply of transplantable organs. If the demand is high enough, and the patients sick enough, the doctors will choose to use a donated organ even if the transplantation risk from the particular organ is substantial. Thus, while fortunately the price system is not used explicitly in the transplantable organ market, the choice to allow more people to register and to compare the demand to the increased supply suggests economics is currently present in this market.
From the (Syracuse) Post-Standard:
A Parish man who was participating in a motorcycle helmet protest ride was killed this afternoon when he went over the handlebars of his motorcycle and injured his head on the pavement, state police said.
Philip A. Contos, 55, of 45 East St., Parish, was not wearing a helmet while driving a 1983 Harley Davidson motorcycle south on Route 11 in Onondaga with a large group of other motorcyclists, troopers said. …
Evidence at the scene and information from the attending physician indicate Contos would have survived if he had been wearing a Department of Transportation approved helmet, troopers said.
When foreign friends visit the States and are puzzled by some of the quirks of our Government, I often point to helmet laws — which differ state by state — as an example of how things work, or fail to work, depending on your point of view.
If the strongest argument in favor of a universal helmet law is that we all share medical and emergency costs to some degree and should therefore minimize them, what is the strong argument against such a law?
One bizarre unintended consequence of the rollback in helmet laws: more human organs available for transplantation. From SuperFreakonomics Illustrated:
Between 1994 and 2007, six states repealed laws that required all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Here’s a look at per-capita organ donations from male victims of motor-vehicle crashes in those states versus all other states.*
*See Stacy Dickert-Conlin, Todd Elder, and Brian Moore, “Donorcycles: Motorcycle Helmet Laws and the Supply of Organ Donors.”
From a reader named Dmitry Mazin:
So I’m doing legalizing the organ market (selling your own organs only) for my speech class because I wanted to do something really repugnant and controversial.
Well, I passed out a survey to my class of about thirty people and two whole people were against this system. And this isn’t a progressive area — it’s in the Bible Belt of Southern California. Even Catholics were for it.
I think this corroborates that repugnance survey in the Freakonomics Radio episode “You Say Repugnant, I Say … Let’s Do It!”
So there you go.
Have a great day!
Hey, you have a great day too, Dmitry.
Some ideas are downright repugnant. Like … paying for human organs.
On the other hand, is it any less repugnant to let thousands of people die every year for want of a kidney that a lot of people might be willing to give up if they were able to be compensated? Read More »
We’ve blogged at length about the shortage of donor organs in the United States. A company in San Diego is working on a solution to that problem. Read More »