In a previous post, I argued that public opinion was a slippery concept, not well measured by opinion polls. One of my examples was kidney markets:

Rather than being a stable parameter, public opinion is very fragile. Polls might show that most people believe X, but as soon as the issue rises to prominence and more information comes out, their views might shift radically. I often talk to people about the importance of allowing a market for kidneys. The first reaction is often negative, as people wonder if this approach would be biased against the poor. Some even fear the theft of kidneys from unwilling donors. It only takes me two minutes to convince them otherwise. The theft of kidneys occurs when there is a black market created by shortages. A market would actually help the poor because it would be cheaper for the US government to pay for kidney transplants for the poor than to continue supporting those with kidney disease under Medicaid. We’d save lives and money. Once you simply point out the facts, public opinion shifts quickly.

Of course that’s just a personal anecdote.  So how about a rigorous study from Johns Hopkins University:

  • Americans’ attitudes toward paying kidney donors are polarized. Forty-six percent of respondents said they favor compensating donors whether or not it markedly increased the supply of available organs. Of those who opposed compensation, 21 percent said they did so regardless of the impact on organ supply. “They were against it, even if it meant satisfying the total demand for organs,” says Macis. “They have a ‘sacred value,’ an absolute moral imperative that opposes compensation, while the 46 percent favor it because they see an element of fairness in compensating donors for an act that demands a lot from them.
  • About a fifth, 18 percent, said they would change from opposing to supporting compensation if it meant a significant boost in the supply of organs. “This is consistent with utilitarian preferences,” Macis says. “They’re willing to make that trade-off, from no to yes, if they see it can do a lot of good for people awaiting transplants. Thus, a majority would favor compensation for kidney donors if it resulted in enough additional lives saved”

Exactly what I expected.  I’ve also argued that society will become more utilitarian as it becomes better educated.

BTW, compensating donors does not just create a “significant boost” in kidney transplants, it completely eliminates a kidney shortage that kills up to 43,000 Americans every single year.  If you think kidney sales should not be allowed, how confident are you of your view? Are you willing to explain why I’m wrong about compensating kidney donors to those 43,000 people who will otherwise die?  I’m not saying the other side of the debate is definitely wrong, but with so much at stake there’s a huge hurdle to overcome if you stand on a non-utilitarian principle such as “no cash for body parts”.

PS.  Over at MoneyIllusion I have a post praising the Trump administration’s decision to compensate kidney donors for lost wages and certain other expenses.  The best single decision of this administration.  As with pot legalization, society is gradually moving in a utilitarian direction.

HT: Frank McCormick