After I made my animated case for a free market in human kidneys, Zac Gochenour – my co-author and soon-to-be assistant professor at Western Carolina University –  originated a rather clever argument.  Quick version: Suppose you’re now poor and healthy.  You’re worried that one day you’ll need a kidney, but won’t be able to afford the free-market price.  What can you do to sleep easy?  Simple: Sell a kidney now and bank the proceeds!  Self-help at its finest.

Here’s Zac fleshing out the argument.  Reprinted with his permission.

A common complaint about a market in kidneys is that the
sick poor would not be able to get kidneys as easily as with a
first-come, first-serve system. Even the lowest estimates of the price
of kidneys in a free market is a significant
sum [1] for many of the world’s poor. But this argument ignores one of
their biggest assets – their healthy kidney before the onset of failure.

Most underlying causes of renal failure affect both kidneys [2], so
keeping a reserve kidney in case one fails will usually not work. Also,
kidneys can only be stored outside the body for about 30 hours [3], so
storing your healthy kidney for future transplant
is impossible. In a sense, though, it is possible to store your kidney: in a market for organ
transplants, your healthy kidney can be sold and the money earned from
the sale used for another purpose, such as the purchase of another
kidney in the future.

One way to help ensure you will have the market value for a kidney
in the future is to sell one now at current market value and save the
money. Prohibition of the sale of kidneys takes away the one asset that
most of the poor have that could potentially
save their lives.

[1] Adams, A. F., A. H. Barnett, and D. L. Kaserman. 1999. “Market for Organs: The Question of Supply.” Contemporary
Economic Policy
17 (April): 147-155.