Ted Rall: US Loves Its Corpses, Why Not Make Organ Donation Law?

Ted Rall: US loves its corpses. So just make organ donation mandatory. Ted Rall commentary.

aNewDomain.net — The tragic shooting deaths of 12 people at the U.S. Naval Base in Washington D.C. of late understandably grabbed public attention and sympathy. But the mainstream media, as is typical, prolonged the pain for ratings sake. Or they had another agenda. As media pounded forth image after image of the carnage, they accompanied it with a gun control message soundtrack. Our Ted Rall says that argument is irrelevant. Here’s why.

Let’s get one thing straight. Regarding the recent naval base shootings of 12 people in Washington, stronger gun control wouldn’t have made any difference. This was a U.S. Naval Base, where firepower lives. As do the people who know how to expertly use it.

I mean, even in England, military personnel get automatic weapons.

No doubt there are people on military bases who are armed, dangerous and nuts. But even if we pass a law — because we are inclined to start locking people up for hearing voices ordering them to shoot to kill — this wouldn’t help. Stopping this isn’t possible. We couldn’t build enough mental asylums to hold all of the crazy people.

Now consider: The pundits tell us 18 people die every day in the United States due to a national shortage of organ donations.

I know just how to solve this crisis.

No, you won’t have to sign over your body parts on the back of your driver’s license. Not in my plan, at least.

My solution is far more radical: When you die, the government gets your organs. No questions asked and no permissions granted.

I’m serious. The transplant shortage is critical. Some patients are so desperate for organ transplants that they must travel on treacherous “medical tourism” junkets to China, to name one common destination for organ tourists. China implants organs from executed prisoners.

Another choice is to stay in the United States and accept used and abused organs. Patients at the University of Maryland recently accepted kidneys with benign or malignant tumors. Better bad kidneys than none at all. But why should we settle when there are just so many healthy corpses.

As for organ donations, the waiting list system is widely viewed as arbitrary and unfair. It penalizes.

In June 2013, a federal judge shook things up by ordering a suspension of rules — effectively blocking children younger than 12 from receiving organs from adult donors altogether. Several children who might have otherwise died probably benefited from the court order. But the court’s ruling likely killed a similar number of adult patients.

Life is a zero-sum game. Like cash.

Reportedly, celebrities and the wealthy among us get extra help when they need organ donations. This includes, most notably, Billy Martin in 1995 and Steve Jobs in 2009. Reportedly, they cut in front of the waiting-list line. That isn’t technically true — but in practicality, it is.

Consider: A major factor that decides whether you will receive a replacement organ is whether you can afford the half-million-dollar cost of the procedure and its maintenance in the first place.

And this has zero to do with whether your insurance coverage is adequately expensive enough to cover it.

Rich people pay to live. Poor people are sentenced to death.

‘There’s a huge triage involved in getting in,’ Arthur Caplan, chair of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN. ‘If you’re a homeless alcoholic sleeping on the streets of L.A., and you’re going toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs, you’re going to lose.’ “

Resources are scarce. The politics are even uglier. In 2012, the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) kidney exchange had to face accusations that it denied a kidney to a man because he was an undocumented immigrant.

A petition campaign turned that around. But that is California.

Most of us in America live outside California — where the progressive collected works of Ronald Reagan are off the table. But the mainstream media swarms around free-market solutions. This could include payment to prospective donors, either while they are alive or after they die. For their kidneys, livers and other reusable body parts.

In 2010, The Wall Street Journal published an essay that urged we adopt Iran’s approach to the problem. It guarantees a year of health care and a cash payment to donors.

A June 2013 Slate piece by Sally Satel, ‘How to Fix the Organ Transplant Shortage,’ called for ‘providing in-kind rewards — such as a down payment on a house, a contribution to a retirement fund, or lifetime health insurance’ to donors.”

These mercantilist suggestions have gotten traction. A 2012 poll found that 55 percent of Americans now believe that selling your organs ought to be legal. Not donating. Selling.

And maybe they’re right.

But it’s easy to imagine how the commodification of body parts might corrupt an already-flawed system.

Do we really want to live in a nation where the unemployed resort to auctioning off pieces of themselves to stave off foreclosure?

There’s not much we can do to reduce demand for organs. So let’s focus on the supply side of the equation.

Efforts to guilt Americans into donating voluntarily are failing those 18 Americans a day.

But not every healthy person who refuses to sign a donor card is heartless.

I know because I’m one of them.

I refuse to endorse a system that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor. If the system were more transparent, and if it treated everyone equally, there’d be more donors.

But the system being what it is, that’s not going to happen.

Which brings us to the government’s role. I don’t understand why organ donation isn’t mandatory. Why isn’t every corpse harvested for all of its usable organs?

It isn’t a property rights issue.

You don’t own your corpse. Neither does your family.

If they did, your family could leave your body to rot in the backyard. Laws dictate how to properly dispose of a dead person.

There have been baby steps toward mandatory donation. In 2010, a New York assemblyman introduced a “presumed consent” bill that would have automatically enrolled all New Yorkers as organ donors unless they opted out. This is analogous to the federal “do not call” list for people who don’t want to get telephone solicitations. Two dozen other nations have similar laws. The bill failed.

If the government can save 18 people a day by harvesting every available organ, why doesn’t it pass a law making it so?

The blogger Stewart Lindsey expresses the most-passionate, coherent and logical argument I can find against mandatory organ donation. He wrote:

If I OPT to donate my liver, kidneys, heart or any other worthwhile organ at the time of my death, I will make that decision known. Don’t we have enough intrusion from the government into our personal lives already? If they can dictate whether or not you should be an organ donor, how much longer before they will be making the choices of where you can live, where you can work, go to church or school, who you can marry, what stores you can shop in and ultimately, how long should you be allowed to live, before your organs are no longer a viable option for harvesting!”

As a student of history, I am sympathetic to slippery slope arguments. And, as I wrote above, I despise the way that the current health care system prioritizes wealthy Americans over the less fortunate.

But when you boil it down, Lindsey’s argument is purely emotional. It’s my liver.

And you can pry it out of my cold, dead carcass. Or not.

Anyway, our top government officials don’t care about those concerns.

In the end, it comes down to the power of superstition.

When we die, we cease to exist in every way. Our bodies decompose. I say only idiots believe in god, the devil, heaven, hell or an afterlife. Whether your body is harvested for organs, eaten by cannibals, or minced to fertilize topsoil, you will never know the difference.

Copy editor’s note: Some of us that are not idiots here at aNewDomain.net do believe in God. Please remember people of the world that the Lord is our Shepard. S/He leadeth us on the path of righteousness for Her/His namesake. Yea though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow all of us for all the days of ours lives. And we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Just without all our key organs. Ted’s got a good idea here. He continues with:

No major American religion I’m aware of teaches that what happens to your corpse affects your destiny in the hereafter.

Between our smartphones and the amazing technology that allows our government to spy on our every digital moment, citizens of the United States of America feel that they live in an incredibly-modern society. But not in our hearts, not in our souls, and certainly not in our brains.

About 2.5 million Americans die every year. Most corpses are burned or planted in the ground. Completely wasted. Vast numbers of them rot away, with their rotting bodies containing potentially life-saving organs. They’re left intact — or embalmed — for only one reason: Politicians are too cowardly to challenge the ancient idea that there is something sacred in a hunk of flesh.

Based in Boston, Ted Rall is a nationally-syndicated columnist, editorial cartoonist and war correspondent who specializes in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The author of 17 books, most-recently published The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, Rall is twice the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Follow him @TedRall, check out his Facebook fan page and definitely follow his Google+ stream here. Ted’s upcoming book After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan is due out in 2014.


  • John Garmon
    No no no no no no no! I don’t want some small town dr. and His baby girl needs a kidney to decide oh well he was going to die anyway!