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Can I Sell an Organ?

The short answer to this question is no, you cannot sell your organs. Federal law bans the sale of organs. This ban includes tissue donation as well as solid organ donation.

In theory, organ transplantation is simple. An ill person needs an organ to live. Their medical team procures an organ. A transplant surgeon retrieves the organ from the donor and transplants it into the organ recipient. Both parties recover and go on with their lives.

The reality of organ transplantation is much different. There is a national and global organ shortage. There are more people on organ waiting lists than potential donors. The temptation to sell or buy an organ is significant in our current climate, but our organ donation system is best for everyone's well-being.

This article explores organ scarcity, organ transplantation, and organ procurement laws.

Organ Scarcity

The demand for viable human organs is so high that approximately 17 people in the United States die each day waiting for an organ transplant. The supply of organs is often insufficient to meet the demands of ill patients.

The wealthy can take advantage of "transplant tourism," where people in need of transplant travel to a country with lax or nonexistent regulations. Such cases raise ethical issues because many organ donors in these countries are poor, disadvantaged, and unaware of organ donation risks.

They are also susceptible to predatory organ brokers who don't view them as human beings, but rather a collection of saleable body parts. Many risk post-surgical complications that outweigh any financial incentive. The recipient also faces risks if the donor organ is not adequately screened.

Illegal organ markets are detrimental to global public health, especially in developing nations.

Organ Procurement

There are two ways to procure organs. The first is through organ donation, and the second is from a living donor.

Organ Donation

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) ensures that all states have similar laws governing organ donation. The Act prohibits the commercialization of organ donation.

The UAGA also outlines organ donors' methods to consent to organ donation.

These methods of consent include the following:

  • Confirmation of donation status on their driver's license
  • A will or an advanced directive
  • Registering through an online donor registry
  • A gift as a living donor
  • Presumed consent if the deceased didn't indicate their refusal to donate

Most of these methods of consent involve deceased donors who consented before their deaths.

Living Donors

Living donors donate an organ (usually a kidney) or a part of an organ (usually the liver) while alive. These gifts are possible because donors can live with one kidney, and their livers will regenerate. Living donations don't often raise the same medical ethics issues as the illegal sale of organs.

Living donors should be over 18 and in good physical and mental health. Living donors should be free of major medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or untreated mental illness.

Organ Transplantation

An organ transplant is a surgery in which a transplant surgeon removes donated organs from the organ donor for placement in the body of an organ recipient. Organ transplant candidates are ill people for whom a transplant is the only cure.

For example, a kidney transplant is an appropriate treatment for someone with end-stage renal disease. Our kidneys filter waste products out of our blood and without this filtration system, these wastes would build up in our blood. Although dialysis is an important therapeutic option, a kidney donation is more effective in enhancing a patient's quality of life.

Organ transplantation is a complex process. In an ideal world, those needing organs could turn to family members or rely on cadaveric organs for life-saving transplants. Physicians often turn to family members first, as they are the patient's best hope for a match. If a family member isn't a good match, the healthcare professionals on the patient's team will contact the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

United Network for Organ Sharing

The United Network for Organ Sharing is a nonprofit organization devoted to uniting and strengthening the transplant community to save lives. UNOS is the country's largest organ transplant system and the most prominent Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network member. UNOS helps ensure patients on national transplant waiting lists have equitable access to life-saving organs.

UNOS plays a crucial role in organ procurement. When patients can't find an organ or tissue donor, their team will turn to an organization like UNOS for a matching organ. UNOS supports the transplant community in the following ways:

  • Managing "the national transplant waiting list, matching donors to recipients"
  • Maintaining a national database of all national organ transplant data
  • Ensuring compliance with organ allocation policies
  • Assisting patients and their families and loved ones throughout the process

Organizations like UNOS help guard against the selling of organs.

The National Organ Transplant Act

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (NOTA) outlines penalties for anyone who buys or sells human organs. They face a five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $50,000. The law includes a safe harbor for those who "unknowingly" receive an illegally procured organ. The law explicitly states that it is a crime for anyone to "knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer" a human organ.


While you may not sell an organ, you may receive reimbursement for some of your donation-related expenses. These expenses may include missed pay after the organ donation surgery.

Living donors do not receive reimbursement for some of the associated post-operative costs. They may also need help maintaining affordable health insurance coverage. Many transplant centers designate financial coordinators to help with insurance issues.

Get Help

There are many factors involved in organ donation. If you or a loved one has legal concerns about the procurement or donation process, consulting with an experienced healthcare attorney can help. With an issue as important as this, it's wise to speak to a qualified, local healthcare attorney today.

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