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How Haley Barbour's Freedom-for-Kidney-Deal for Scott Sisters Makes U.S. Like China

In making Gladys Scott's prison release conditional on the donation of her kidney to her sister, the Mississippi governor sets a dangerous precedent, and flouts the law.

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Yet such sympathies do not justify turning a blind eye to brokers or even government officials who just don’t get what it means to voluntarily consent to give up your kidney.  If we are serious about stopping organ trafficking, there are two solutions and both must be implemented. The first is to get serious about organ traffickers -- starting with Haley Barbour and the State of Mississippi -- and put all states on notice that prisoners do not lose their human rights and cannot be exploited for their organs. At the same time, those professional associations and opponents of trafficking, such as the National Kidney Foundation, should demonstrate their seriousness by lobbying for legislation with strict enforcement mechanisms that would make it a crime to arrange or go overseas for a commercialized transplant. So far, these groups have shown no political will to actual go after the worst violators of human rights, the traffickers in our midst.

The second and more effective solution to trafficking and the organ shortage is to stop pretending that we can solve it with better education about registering as an organ donor on death. Few of us are going to die with healthy organs just ready to be transplanted. And recent experience shows that all too few people are going to give their spare kidney on the basis of pure altruism, especially an altruism that leaves them exposed to medical risks. It is time to study whether or not an ethical, non-exploitative and safe regime of incentives for living and deceased donation would bring us closer to saving the lives of those with end-stage renal disease and putting the traffickers out of business forever.

Frances Kissling is a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania where her major interest is the intersection of religion, reproduction and women's rights. She has an additional interest in US organ transplant policy. She served for 25 years as president of Catholics for a Free Choice .

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