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Limits on Organ Donations in Costa Rica

By: Ryan Hildebrand - Jun 27, 2013, 10:38 am

Although laws against owning another person (slavery) are on the books in every nation on earth — and rightly so — the question of who owns, for lack of a better definition, the “body one lives in” is more cloudy at the legal level. For example, in the United States, one can be compensated for “donating” his plasma, but not his blood. Gametes (sperm and ova) are also legally sold and donated in many nations. Of course, selling one’s tissues or organs is off the table just about everywhere, except Iran.

The common cry amongst those against organ selling is that allowing such would disproportionately affect the poor. One could easily counter that perhaps the poor would be the ones who would most benefit from selling a kidney, a lobe of their liver, or whole blood. It may even incentivize potential sellers to take better care of their bodies.

organ donation surgeryAs it stands, nearly everyone along the organ and tissue supply chain profits off of donations, except the donors themselves. This is truly a shame, as demand is exceedingly high and supply low. In fact, many die daily from lack of an organ donor.

There are a few solutions which might help stem the flow of these needless deaths (presumed consent with active “opt-out,” for example), but such tactics are involuntary and subversively coercive in nature. What incentive does an individual have other than angelic-like altruism to donate his organs, alive or after death? As it stands, most who are willing to donate their organs for transplant are too old or unhealthy upon death to be of any use.

This brings us to what is currently going on in Costa Rica.

The proposed new law appears so draconian and repressive that it is likely to backfire (it should be noted that these laws affect Caja, the only medical insurer in the country), with limitations including, but not limited to: no advertising for a needed organ, no transplants outside of family “except in cases where the donor is found to offer the organ voluntarily and in a spirit of altruism,” and completely stops donations from minors (except for bone marrow).

So, basically, the supply is restricted. To reiterate, there is little incentive to give up one’s organs, except out of some vague sense of “altruism.”

Do the people of Costa Rica own their bodies? Obviously not, given the paternalistic stance of their government. And what does that leave? Potential organ and tissue recipients waiting their turn, slowly dying, as there aren’t enough donors.

Ryan Hildebrand Ryan Hildebrand

Dr. Ryan Hildebrand is a college instructor in New Orleans, Louisiana, and co-host of The Neo and Wim Show. You can follow his personal blog, NOLA City Blues, and his Twitter @NOLACityBlues. Read more of his featured PanAm Post column, "Self-Ownership."