As the Super Bowl approaches, Phil Cook and I have an OpEd running in the Raleigh News & Observer and other venues. Below is a taste, but you can read the whole thing here. Our paper on this topic, forthcoming in Law & Contemporary Problems, is available here.
Why ban payment to kidney donors but not football players?
February 01, 2018 01:06 PM
Super Bowl week rivets national attention on America’s most popular and lucrative sport, professional football. If stories of concussion and permanent injury to players make some fans uneasy, there is always the reassuring fact that the players volunteer for the job and are well compensated – so well compensated that there are untold thousands of young men who would gladly take their place.
Football is so ingrained in our culture that we generally accept this situation without much scrutiny. However, our research got us thinking about the stark contrast with another risky but valuable activity – kidney donation.
About 6,000 people per year donate one of their two kidneys. This selfless act has some risk to the donor, both from the surgery and years later when there is a chance the remaining kidney will fail. In return, kidney donors are rewarded with the knowledge they helped save the life of a loved one. They receive nothing tangible. Indeed, federal law bans compensation for kidney donors, as do the laws of all other countries except Iran (really).
So, why do we pay football players to entertain the public, but are unwilling to pay kidney donors to save lives?
The stakes in both cases are high, but much higher in kidney donation. The total value of NFL teams is about $60 billion. If, in some unlikely future, the risk of serious permanent injury to players led to a ban on professional play, that value would be destroyed.
Meanwhile, the ban on compensation for living kidney donation currently costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars in taxpayer money every year. The waiting list for a kidney now includes 100,000 patients, who for the most part are kept alive by renal dialysis at federal government expense. If they survive long enough, typically more than five years, in this debilitated state, they may hope to rise to the top of the list and receive a kidney from a deceased donor.
. . .
Millions of Americans, not just NFL players, work in occupations that have a substantial risk of serious injury. Loggers, fishermen and others accept these risks in exchange for compensation. Extending that list to include kidney donors is just common sense.
PHILIP COOK IS TERRY SANFORD PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF PUBLIC POLICY AND PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND SOCIOLOGY AT DUKE UNIVERSITY’S SANFORD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY. KIMBERLY KRAWIEC IS THE KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT PROFESSOR OF LAW AT DUKE LAW SCHOOL.