The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Organomics: How Much Is Your Life Worth?
June 23, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: Comment


So this is my last week of my/our ‘WPP social experiment‘ and I have to say it’s weird.

Yes I am very excited and happy about all that is – and about to – happen, but it’s still weird – especially when I see just how much shit I’ve amassed over the past few years and how it’s going to cost me a bloody fortune to ship everything over unless I actually start chucking some things out.

Putting all that aside – especially as I’m actually in HK at the moment and have to do all the ‘sorting’ when I’m back on Wednesday – what this means is that this will be my final week of regular blog posting for the next couple of months.

I know no one gives a shit – but by saying it, I can pretend I’m sort-of popular 🙂

By the way did you see what I did there?

Previously I’d talked about how I wasn’t going to write ANY blog post but and now I’m admitting there may be the odd one along the way.

Yes, I am obsessed.

How pathetic!

Anyway lets get onto this post shall we?

Oh hang on … just for the record, I’m going to be popping into Sydney in the first week of July for a few days … so if anyone who reads this rubbish wants to catch up, let me know – but I’m not exactly expecting to be inundated with offers, ha!

Right lets get back to the Human [Organ] Economy or as I like to call it, Organomics.

Photo: ABC News

Basically I watched a program a while back about poor people in India/China selling their organs to wealthy [but unhealthy] Westerners because the small amount of money they got, could have a disproportionate benefit on their families life.

The most tragic part was when a woman sold one of her kidneys [via some dodgy ‘organ transplant’ ‘company] to an American man and then found out a few weeks later that her remaining kidney was failing and she was basically going to die.

[As an aside, while the American paid US$20,000 for the kidney – the woman only received approx US$1000]

Anyway, a few days later I met someone who told me that in Singapore, organ donorship is based on an ‘opt out’ scheme – or in other words, unless you actively express your desire to NOT donate, your organs will automatically be given to someone who needs it when you die. [Which is a brilliant idea, excluding those who can’t for religious reasons]

So this got me thinking and I think I have an idea that could be interesting but I’d like your guys feedback/views just incase … 🙂

I should say that I know there are some major flaws in the concept [ie: is there ever an abundance of human organs needing donors and can they stay ‘alive’ for a certain period of time, to name but two] but hang in there because this is an important issue and if we can help, then it would be great.

OK, so the idea is that when someone dies in Singapore – and assuming the organs that have been harvested are not needed by any local patient – the Singapore Government makes its availability known on something that I’m calling the ‘Life List’.

Wall Street Bull Photo: Quan Nguyen

The ‘Life List’ is a website where people willing to pay for a ‘transplanted organ’ register their details so that when a human organ is made available, they can ‘buy’ [or bid] for it’s access.

[My worry with the ‘bid’ concept is that it could force ‘organ prices’ to go very high, whereas having ‘standard prices’ could aid in stopping the very real crime of organ theft – but that’s a different issue for now!]

Now I know this sounds pretty inhumane but this is where the idea comes in …

When someone buys the organ [and remember, there’s still the risk the body could reject it] the money that’s raised doesn’t go to the Singapore Government … nor to the family whose sad loss resulted in the organ being available … no, the money goes into a special fund that only invests in the poorest areas of India and China so that families located there won’t have to go to the terrible extent of selling one of their organs just to help their family survive.

In essence, when someone dies – the person isn’t just helping one person – he/she is potentially helping hundreds because whilst the organ will only go to one individual, the money ‘raised’ will be used to invest in all manner of things that can make life better for families, villages and communities.

I appreciate this might not work and that it is highly contentious – but if the Singapore Government did it [which I have to admit would be doubtful, even if it was feasible] you could argue that the Singaporean population are the most humane people on Earth!

So that’s it, we start a human organ stock market so that wealthy but ill Westerners can ‘buy’ hope for themselves and countless others [as long as no one in the ‘home country’ needs the organ first] and ensure no human has to ever resort to selling their life expectancy just so their kids can eat or learn.

[If we could stay on topic, I’d really appreciate it 🙂 ]

20 Comments so far
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Brilliant idea.
I must admit I doubt it could work because it would be bound to attract a host of moral, ethical and political complications but I love the concept and I love how you come up with ideas that can benefit multiple parties rather than just one.
Maybe it just needs some adapting or focus on a category that is going to be less controversial, but it does show Google have made the right move 🙂

PS Should I ask about the post you wrote prior to this one?

Comment by Pete

For the reasons both you and Pete raise this concept is probably unworkable in its present guise but it’s certainly worth investigating further though I believe it will always have moral and ethical questions asked of it.
This kind of imaginative, interesting idea is the Rob I know so keep it up, I don’t need another Andy thank you very much 🙂

Comment by George

thats right pete and george, shit on an idea that could help the poor and unprotected get on their feet. now do i mean rob or the people who have to sell their organs for survival? 🙂

and dont forget youre fucking lucky to have me george, i made you and i can destroy you but i wont because im scared of your wife. now lets stop fucking around and think how we can make this idea work because theres a bunch of holes but a great heart.

see rob, i am supporting you in your hour of need, remember that when its “will writing time”

Comment by andy@cynic

hey rob – aside from the two bigger problems which i think need to be solved (ie: the level of poverty in china/india which has people resorting to selling their kidneys and the unhealthiness of westerners), i think this is a brilliant idea.

it could actually be intersting to have the organ ‘bank’ as a global entity and run as an arm of the UN/IMF/Unesco/Red Cross (pun intended) so that politics doesn’t interfere: along the lines of Medicins Sans Frontiers.

It could be easily sponsored by a range of air freight/airlines and other distro channels (like TNT, UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, Toll plus all those car companies that you kids love so much) – where the practicalities of delivering organs could be facilitated by organisations (oh, bad pun) who are already delivering other goods globally.

And I’d suggest that the funding not necessarily go to families for just anything, but specifically towards health-care (which would obviously include basic necessities like clean water).Not that funding for regular, everyday things is not important, but having a focus to the funding can prevent the corruption eating away at an open system.

The Singapore government could easily lead the way with their ‘opt out’ system and encourage other countries to do the same (save those whose religious principles prevent them from doing so).

Comment by lauren

“they” have also figured out how to get Muslims into the act by having the religious council encourage organ donation and tell muslims what a good thing it is and that it is not anti-religious ( harming ones body) and that they should “opt-in” as Muslim organs as a priority will go to help Muslims live etc. Many of the younger muslims are doing so now ! Great idea Rob – now if only it could or would be done ….

Comment by fan

I’d give my right kidney to see you in Sydney next week. Ok, maybe just my kidney bean but then we could try to trade it for a coffee bean or two.

Comment by Emily

oops. I didn’t mean to seem flippant in this context. It’s a great idea. Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a haunting little book about this titled Never Let Me Go that sticks in my mind.

Comment by Emily

Oh, and add to Emily’s fervour: i’d give my right arm to catch up with you too, but can’t make it to Sydney. Considering coming to Mexico?

Comment by lauren

I would just add a +1 element to the scheme: anybody who buys a organ has to automatically put himself on the list when he passes + 1 other person (let’s see how deep the love really goes). so you get some kind of cycle thing going and a muliplier effect..

And by the way…Let’s put the Italian footy team at the top of the list, seems they are missing balls + the part of the brain where creativity resides ;)..thank god the russians beat holland or I would have had to do proper work today to make some money..

Comment by niko

No they can’t stay alive – they’re not car parts. That’s why the solution has to be demand-side led. The patient has to be in place and the medical expertise has to determine which recipient would be the best match for the donation and, on top of that, I’d imagine there has to be an assessment of the optimal use of surgery hours i.e which recipients have best chance of survival/life-enhancement. Laying a “market” principle over that would risk distorting all those factors – especially since the actual number of people neeeding transplants in the UK is surprisingly low compared to the number of deaths and thus potential suppliers of parts.

Googling for proof of last assertion pulled up this intriguing piece that speaks to both sides of the debate.

Comment by john

I think it’S a very interesting idea though it has one or two lacks here and there. The first is that an organ won’t stay alive until a wealthy Western someone bought it. Though maybe it would be possible to keep the donator’s organs working with CPB (no that’s not Crispin,Porter+Bogusky but Cardiopulmonary bypass). Unfortunately this technique would cost more than the receivers of the organs will pay.

Now, even if it’s cost-effective we still have the biggest problem (that all good ideas have to face) solve: human error. There will always be people finding a way to undermine good ideas with their will milk them for money and power. Socialism itself…what a great idea if it just had worked the way Marx thought it out. Unfortunately some human beings got in the way. With aid organisations it’s the same. A great ideas. Unfortunately the organisation itself devours billions. Or they are simply lead by wrong people (I read an interesting article about a book by ex-UN employees on that topic).

The human factor, that’s the biggest barricade I think (you should know the problem working together with Andy).

Another problem is that it’s not political or ethical correct to buy organs no matter if it’s for a good cause or not. There is still the smell of fat, rich, Western bastards upgrade their health on the shoulders of the poor.

Maybe it would be easier (and not only rich fat bastards can do it) if people take more care of what they buy. If it’s fair produced and fair traded. It’s something everyone can do and maybe it has a big effect on brands to produce fair and therefore a small effect on lifes.

I do sound like a fuckwit, do I?

Comment by Seb

I think we need to talk seriously about managing population decline in a way that allows all types of DNA to survive. But that’s just me.

Comment by Charles Frith

Hi guys – thanks for the comments, and I do appreciate they’re some flaws however to touch on John’s point for a minute, whilst it is a ‘demand’ based issue – and organs may be rejected by the body, even when deemed a ‘match’- I still believe that as an overall concept it could work because [1] many people who ‘buy’ organs are already prepared to be based in different countries for a period of time whilst waiting for a ‘match’ – infact ‘medical tourism’ is one of the fastest growing categories at the moment and [2] transportation speed and effectiveness is so great that potentially organs could be delivered to anywhere in the World within a 24 hour period [nice idea Lauren – and with TNT a client, we could talk to them too]

I’m not suggesting it would be easy – and the transportation option may have incredible flaws – but just because the UK is ‘awash’ with un-needed organs doesn’t mean that issue is true to the rest of the World … as best exemplified by the number of wealthy people attempting to ‘shortcut’ the system [despite its risks, dangers and flaws] via the ultra poor in China and India to name but 2.

I know what you’re saying John – but the World can’t keep treating the poor as ‘commodities’ and this may be a way to help make people, culture and societies better and that must be worth at least an exploration. [Even though the issues of moral and ethical behaviour is one where there can probably be no definitive solution]

And Niko, I do like the ‘recycling’ addition – though I have no idea if kidneys, like hearts, become less effective as they get older.

Oh and Emily, I’d love to catch up – I’m seeing Matt on Thursday morning so maybe we could meet up after that?

Comment by Rob

brilliant idea though Rob. Bravo 🙂

Comment by Charles Frith

No – the UK isn’t awash with organs – that’s the point. There are very few on the waiting list but the waiting times are huge. Even where the supply side is theoretically unproblematic, the system needs to be revamped,

Comment by john

Sorry John, I misunderstood you – and everyone’s comments are absolutely correct – however as I said earlier, many people who ‘buy’ organs are already prepared to be based in different countries for a period of time whilst waiting for a ‘match’ so if they do this when buying ‘illegally, they probably would do it if it was an accepted system plus given ‘medical tourism’ is already one of the fastest growing categories, people are already predisposed to finding ways to overcome their health obstacles – and those with money would probably take any risk/any inconvienience to stand a chance to get better than wait and die like so many less fortunate.

Seb is right that it may leave a nasty taste in the mouth of many that the ‘wealthy’ can find opportunites others can’t – but that’s why I thought the money they pay could go to help those who are usually used as ‘body organ fodder’ so their cash is helping society rather than the illegal organ brokers.

I know it’s contentious – I know it has flaws – but if we accept that rich people on waiting lists WOULD locate themselves in a foreign country while awaiting a suitable organ and that morally/ethically it could be overcome – what else is wrong with it.

And I say that as a question, not as a sarcastic statement.

Comment by Rob

Sadly there are enough good organs in the world, but it is quite horrid as to how we could get to them:

the ghetto’s of the world are full of people (young especially) who get killed daily, this is fact, they also live in the places Rob would like to help; so there is an untapped (and unregistered as most live under the social radar) well of organs that an organisation like Lauren discribed could get to…and for the communities that suffers those killings to get money to help the neighbourhoods,

plus all the people in jail: give kidney get a chance at smaller sentence?, number of inmates in usa alone is over 2 million, 1 out of 11 serves life sentence. would a chance to provide for their families be incentive to donate?

Unfortunately the longer I think about it the more I think this idea will happen; the math is to good to pass up.

As for the rich having opportunities: well buy two to get one. create two lists; a rich one and a “poor” one. got to buy for someone else in order to get for yourself

Comment by niko

Carbon footprint (but then you’re a worse offender than the entire programme would be) and the inevitable rise of organ traffickers who undercut the list price and still make a profit. Once you give something priceless a price, you’re bound to run into problems. One way round it might be for the donor family to get a cut – no pun intended.

Comment by john

Hi John – maybe the donor family could get a ‘cut’ but for me, the beauty in the idea is that they are already helping by giving someone a life as well as facilitating more people to benefit because they are making money [from the wealthy] to give to the poor.

You’re right as regards it being a criminal magnet – but then isn’t everything – and maybe [and I use it more in hope that faith] the wealthy wouldn’t mind paying more as long as they knew the cash was being used for good rather than lining the pockets of dodgy bastards.

As a Vicar once said to me, “if God doesn’t exist, why does everyone ask for him when they die” … by which I mean when you are faced with mortality – and given the opportunity to change/delay that outcome – it’s amazing how your attitude changes so with a bit of luck, that could drive more people to choosing this route than the criminal alternative.

[And given my suggestion is using the Singaporean Government as the pioneers of this venture, you can be sure it would be run clinically effectively 🙂 ]

Thanks to all for the feedback – got some food for thought, but I still think there may be something in it, even if it may require some changes – either in its operation [excuse the pun] or it’s role interms of health care.

Any other comments would be gladly received.

Comment by Rob

Good article,

I have just written my own on the subject.

The ‘Human’ Body Shop Article:

Comment by Rhys Gregory

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