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There are approximately 120,000 Americans on the organ transplant waiting list, about as many people as live in Charleston, South Carolina and Hartford, Connecticut. Many of these people’s lives will ultimately be saved, after long and harrowing waits—as former Vice President Dick Cheney’s was. But others on the list will die before their turn comes up and a suitable donor is found.

These tragic deaths are putting increasing pressure on organ transplant ethics. Some “jump the queue” and travel to China to buy organs—many of which come from executed political prisoners. Others pay destitute people in developing countries for a kidney; this exploitation of the desperate poor became so rampant that Pakistan outlawed live organ donations to non-relatives and the Philippines banned organ transplant surgeries for non-citizens. Here in the U.S., public intellectuals such as Sally Satel of the American Enterprise Institute—who received a kidney from a live donor—argue for changing the law to permit organ sales. Of course, people in Satel’s socioeconomic class would never be the sellers.

Meanwhile, many bioethicists argue that we should eliminate the “dead donor rule” that requires donors of vital organs to be deceased before procurement. If these advocates get their way, doctors will be allowed to euthanize seriously incapacitated patients by means of organ harvesting.

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