Transplantation is generally the treatment of choice for those suffering from kidney failure. Not only does transplantation offer improved quality of life and increased longevity relative to dialysis, it also reduces end-stage renal disease program expenditures, providing savings to Medicare. Unfortunately, the waiting list for kidney transplants is long, growing, and unlikely to be substantially reduced by increases in the recovery of cadaveric kidneys. Another approach is to obtain more kidneys through payment to living “donors,” or vendors. Such direct commodification, in which a price is placed on kidneys, has generally been opposed by medical ethicists. Much of the ethical debate, however, has been in terms of commodification through market exchange. Recognizing that there are different ethical concerns associated with the purchase of kidneys and their allocation, it is possible to design a variety of institutional arrangements for the commodification of kidneys that pose different sets of ethical concerns. We specify three such alternatives in detail sufficient to allow an assessment of their likely consequences and we compare these alternatives to current policy in terms of the desirable goals of promoting human dignity, equity, efficiency, and fiscal advantage. This policy analysis leads us to recommend that kidneys be purchased at administered prices by a nonprofit organization and allocated to the transplant centers that can organize the longest chains of transplants involving willing-but-incompatible donor-patient dyads.

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