The Shortage of Transplant Organs: Teaching Tools

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Originally posted on May 3, 2010.


The shortage of transplant organs raises many issues that can be usefully discussed in a principles of economics class.  Most obviously, the prohibition on compensating organ donors can be thought of as a price control. Thus, one potential solution is lifting the price control and compensating deceased donation or live donors.


There are other potential solutions with economic content, such as giving people who sign their organ donor card priority should they one day need an organ or presumed consent.  Clearly, compensating organ donors also brings to the fore many ethical issues–see our chapter on Economics, Ethics and Public Policy for a discussion of some of these issues. In addition, the ethical issues are not necessarily separable from the economic ones. It is possible, for example, that payment for donors could “crowd out” altruistic donation.


My powerpoint slides, Using Incentives to Increase Kidney Donation, have some useful background information on the shortage of organs and also discuss some of the innovative programs that have begun elsewhere in the world that may help to alleviate the shortage.  Also excellent for promoting discussion is the video below from Drew Carey and Reason TV.  Matt Holian suggests some ways of using this and other Reason TV videos in the classroom.

About the Author
Alex Tabarrok is Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of research for The Independent Institute. Tabarrok is co-author with Tyler Cowen of the popular economics blog, Marginal Revolution. His recent research looks at bounty hunters, judicial incentives and elections, crime control, patent reform, methods to increase the supply of human organs for transplant, and the regulation of pharmaceuticals. He is the editor of the books, Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science; The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society; and Changing the Guard: Private Prisons and The Control of Crime. His papers have appeared in the Journal of Law and Economics, Public Choice, Economic Inquiry, Journal of Health Economics, Journal of Theoretical Politics, The American Law and Economics Review, Kyklos and many other journals. His popular articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other magazines and newspapers.