Category Archives: Sports

If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too: Wrap-Up

In this series of posts, I’ve discussed a new draft that Phil Cook and I are circulating, If We Allow Football Players and Boxers to Be Paid for Entertaining the Public, Why Don’t We Allow Kidney Donors to Be Paid for Saving Lives?. Our claim, which I laid out in my first post, is that there is a stronger case for compensating kidney donors than for compensating participants in violent sports. If this proposition is accepted, one implication is that there are only three logically consistent positions: allow compensation for both kidney donation and for violent sports; allow compensation for kidney donation but not for violent sports; or allow compensation for neither. Our current law and practice is perverse in endorsing a fourth regime, allowing compensation for violent sports but not kidney donation.

A common argument in support of the ban on kidney donation is that if people were offered the temptation of substantial compensation, some would volunteer to donate against their own “true” best interests. This argument is often coupled with a social justice concern, namely that if kidney donors were paid, a large percentage of volunteers would be poor and financially stressed, and for them the offer of a substantial financial inducement would be coercive. In sum, a system of compensated donation would provide an undue temptation, and end up exploiting the poor.

To these arguments we offer both a direct response, and a response by analogy with violent sport. My posts have touched on a few key points. First, the medical risks to a professional career in football, boxing, and other violent sports are much greater both in the near and long term than the risks of donating a kidney. On the other hand, the consent and screening process in professional sports is not as developed as in kidney donation. The social justice concerns stem from the fact that most players are black and some come from impoverished backgrounds.

Note that these arguments focus on the donors’ welfare, and ignore the welfare of people in need of a kidney. A comprehensive evaluation of amending NOTA to allow compensation requires that both groups be considered. Such an evaluation, conducted by Philip Held and colleagues, reached the following conclusion about a regime in which living donors were offered enough compensation ($45,000) to end the kidney shortage: “From the viewpoint of society, the net benefit from saving thousands of lives each year and reducing the suffering of 100,000 more receiving dialysis would be about $46 billion per year, with the benefits exceeding the costs by a factor of 3. In addition, it would save taxpayers about $12 billion each year.”

As stated by Held et. al., “dialysis is not only an inferior therapy for end-stage renal disease (ESRD), it is also almost 4 times as expensive per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained as a transplant.” This means that the Medicare (which pays for the bulk of ESRD treatments) dollars currently spent on dialysis could be reallocated to compensating kidney donors, saving lives and tax dollars in the process.

As I said, even a series of posts gives only an introduction to our arguments and evidence, so download the full paper here.

Prior related posts:

If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too

Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Medical Risks

Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Informed Consent And It’s Limits

Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Exploitation, Race, Class

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Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Exploitation, Race, Class

In prior posts, I introduced the question, If We Allow Football Players and Boxers to Be Paid for Entertaining the Public, Why Don’t We Allow Kidney Donors to Be Paid for Saving Lives?, and argued that the medical risks to a professional career in football, boxing, and other violent sports are greater than the risks of donating a kidney and that the consent and screening process in professional sports is not as developed as in kidney donation.

Although the primary focus of our paper is on the medical risk associated with living kidney donation, we also briefly discuss concerns about exploitation, coercion, race, and class, again with an analogy to violent sports. Living kidney donors in the United States have above-average incomes (after adjusting for sex and age). In a new regime in which donors were paid a substantial fee, it is predictable that the influx of volunteers would have below-average incomes. The prospect of financially stressed individuals attempting to make ends meet by “selling” a kidney raises a red flag for some ethicists. A compensation regime would expand the choice set for those in comfortable circumstances, but those in desperate circumstances might feel compelled to sell a kidney; in that sense, the option of selling could be seen as “coercive.” Furthermore, a system that in part depended on the poor to supply kidneys could be seen as “exploiting” the poor.

We believe that using words like “coercion” and “exploitation” to characterize the introduction of a new option by which poor people (and others) could earn a substantial amount of money provides more heat than light on this situation. The legitimate ethical concern is that so many Americans are poor, with inequality increasing over time. But that observation does not support a ban on compensation, which in fact limits the options available to the poor and thereby makes a bad situation (their lack of marketable assets) worse. But for anyone not persuaded by this argument, we note that these social-justice concerns apply with at least equal force to compensating boxers; most American professional boxers were raised in lower-income neighborhoods, and are either black or Hispanic.

As more has become known about the dangers of the repeated head trauma, similar arguments regarding football have become more prominent. About 70% of NFL players are black, and Pacific Islanders are also overrepresented as compared to the American population. Accordingly, much attention has been paid to the concussion crisis as a race and class problem. As one observer recently noted, “What’s a little permanent brain damage when you’re facing a life of debilitating poverty?” In reality, NFL players are better educated themselves, and come from better educated homes, than is average for Americans, in part because the NFL typically recruits college students. Still, some NFL players, like some would-be kidney donors, come from poverty.

Of course, this is only a taste of our arguments and evidence, so read the full paper here. In my next post, I’ll recap and wrap up.

Prior related posts:

If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too

Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Medical Risks

Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Informed Consent And It’s Limits

 

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Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Informed Consent And It’s Limits

In prior posts, I introduced the question, If We Allow Football Players and Boxers to Be Paid for Entertaining the Public, Why Don’t We Allow Kidney Donors to Be Paid for Saving Lives?, and argued that the ban against paying kidney donors cannot rest on the basis of medical risk when we pay professional athletes to incur far greater risks. Today, I will talk about the consent process and the extent to which we might expect the system to protect participants – whether organ donors or professional athletes – from making bad choices against their own interests in exchange for the lure of money.

We believe that if NOTA were amended to allow payments to donors, potential kidney donors could be protected against being unduly tempted through the existing structure of screening, counseling, and delay, perhaps with some additional protections to prevent hasty decisions. On the other hand, it is not clear that NFL recruits have such protections in place.

Whether and when sane, sober, well-informed, adults should be banned by government authority from choosing to engage in an activity that risks their own life and limb is an ancient point of contention. There are a variety of hazardous activities that are permitted with no legal bar to receiving compensation. Included on this list are such occupations as logging, roofing, commercial fishing, and military service. Also included are violent sports such as football, boxing, and mixed martial arts (MMA). These examples illustrate a broad endorsement of the principle that consenting adults should be allowed to exchange (in a probabilistic sense) their physical health and safety for financial compensation, even in some instances where the ultimate product is simply providing a public entertainment.

One potentially distinguishing feature of kidney donation is that the harm is not the result of an accident, but rather of the deliberate action (of the surgeon and medical team). But this is also the case with fighting sports and with egg donors, who are compensated.

It is helpful to deconstruct the decision to donate a kidney under both the current regime (no compensation) and a hypothetical regime (in which the donor would be financially compensated). A well-developed organ procurement process in the American system seeks to ensure that potential donors are fully capable of making a good decision. Potential kidney donors are not only provided with full information, but also screened for mental and physical disability. While there is the possibility of “mistakes” (a decision to donate against the true best interests of the individual) under both a compensated and uncompensated system, the screening, consent process, and delays should minimize the chance for the kind of errors that behavioral economics has demonstrated are common. There is nothing intrinsically irrational about a willingness to assume medical risk in exchange for a substantial amount of money. But the quality of the choice may be influenced by a variety of factors, and we recommend some “nudges” designed to overcome the most common causes of faulty decision-making under such circumstances.

The same concerns that apply to the quality of kidney donor decisions also apply, and more obviously, to the decision to sign a contract to play in the NFL. Yet the consent and screening process in professional sports is not as developed as in kidney donation. Players are provided with little information about the risks, and indeed, the longer-term risks (including the risk of CTE in middle age) have not been well quantified, but appear to be far higher than for kidney donation. The payoff in both financial terms and status is also very high, and in part conveyed immediately. Any counseling or screening that might occur is up to the player to pursue.

In short, to the extent that the ban on compensated kidney donation is grounded in a concern that the lure of money may cause donors to disregard the risks of the procedure and subsequent long-term effects, that concern applies with even more force to participation in violent sport.

This, of course, is just a taste of our analysis and evidence, so read the full paper for more.

Prior related posts:

If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too

Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Medical Risks

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Paying Kidney Donors, Football Players, And Boxers: Medical Risks

Yesterday, in If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too, I introduced a new paper, written by Phil Cook and me, arguing that the case for paying kidney donors is much stronger than the case for paying participants in football, boxing, and other violent sports, and promising to follow up with subsequent posts outlining our arguments and evidence.

Today, I’ll discuss the central argument in our paper: the medical risks to a professional career in football, boxing, and other violent sports are much greater both in the near and long term than the risks of donating a kidney. Injuries in such sports are common, and retired players are very often disabled by the long-term effects of these injuries as well the cumulative effect of thousands of blows to the body.

One challenge in making a meaningful comparison between the risks entailed in kidney donation and the risks entailed in participation in contact sports is that the latter may stretch out for many years and involve not one choice (donate or not) but rather a series of choices regarding participation. While it is difficult to quantify these effects in a way that provides a natural comparison with kidney donation, we provide some statistics that suggest that, for example, a man who signs a contract to play in the NFL for a year is consenting to be exposed to far greater medical risks than someone who volunteers to donate a kidney.

We focus our analysis on football, because the epidemiology of injury and disability is better developed than for fighting sports. It is worth noting, however, that there has always been concern about the risk posed by fighting sports, and that concern has accelerated in recent years, due to a better understanding of the long-term effects of head trauma. As a result of these risks, medical associations around the world, including the American Medical Association and various state medical associations, have called for limitations or bans on boxing and MMA.

As to kidney donation, we analyze both the post-operative risk from surgery and the post-recovery chance of death or disability resulting from loss of function of the remaining kidney. Both risks – while greater than zero — are quite low, both in an absolute sense and in comparison to the typical risks of participation in violent sport. For example, post-operative complications (most of them minor, such as bleeding or wound infection) are present in 7.3% of cases, and donors face a higher cumulative incidence of end stage renal disease than nondonors – 0.31% versus 0.04%. While that risk is thus significantly elevated for donors, it remains very low in an absolute sense, representing an increased chance of about 1 in 400.

With respect to football, we discuss injury rates at the youth, high school, collegiate, and professional level. While that data is far too extensive to fully discuss here, I’ll provide a few highlights:

  • In 2016, the 2,274 active players in the NFL experienced 2066 injuries during the preseason and regular season, 244 of which were concussions. That’s .073 concussions per player-season – about equal to the rate of surgical complications (again, most of them minor) in kidney donation.
  • Official injury reports and survey information suggest that for a substantial majority of former players, injuries ended their career or contributed to the decision to end their career. Nine of 10 former players have nagging aches and pains from football when they wake up, and for most the pain lasts all day. For those age 30-49, the ability to work is impaired by injury.
  • A recent postmortem study of a sample of donated brains of former NFL players found that 110 of 111 indicated either mild or (more commonly) severe CTE.

This last point requires some explanation, because the findings do not imply that 99% of former NFL players will have CTE. The brains in the study were voluntarily submitted for examination by family members who were often motivated by a desire to know the cause of their loved ones dementia or other neurological problems. But the 111 brains do represent 8.5% of the 1300 former NFL players who died during the period that these brains were donated. That places something of a logical lower bound on the prevalence of CTE. Presumably the true prevalence is much higher than 8.5%.

While it is not possible to do a precise “apples to apples” comparison of the medical risks associated with kidney donation` and the risks associated with a professional football career, it seems clear that the acute risk of injury and of long-term disability are far higher for the football player. As discussed above, most NFL veterans live out their lives following retirement with serious physical and mental disabilities. The vast majority of kidney donors lead entirely normal lives following recovery from the initial operation.

In other words, the ban against paying kidney donors cannot rest on the basis of medical risk when we pay professional athletes to incur far greater risks. This is just a short preview of the evidence on medical risk, so read the whole paper, If We Allow Football Players and Boxers to Be Paid for Entertaining the Public, Why Don’t We Allow Kidney Donors to Be Paid for Saving Lives?

Prior related posts:

If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too

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If You Oppose Paying Kidney Donors, You Should Oppose Paying Football Players And Boxers Too

Having concluded that simply advocating for compensated kidney donation was not sufficiently controversial, Phil Cook and I are now turning our sights on professional sports – specifically, professional football and boxing. In a piece just posted to SSRN, we contrast the compensation ban on organ donation with the legal treatment of football, boxing, and other violent sports in which both acute and chronic injuries to participants are common. While there is some debate about how best to regulate these sports in order to reduce the risks, there appears to be no serious debate about whether participants should be paid. Indeed, for the best adult football players, college scholarships and perhaps a professional contract worth multiple millions are possible.

Phil and I will likely spend part of the winter break as television viewers contributing to the NFL teams’ collective $56 billion valuation. But our position on paying kidney donors saves us from hypocrisy. If, however, you are one of the many, many people who believe it is unethical to compensate kidney donors, then you should be out protesting the NFL. And don’t even think about watching the latest boxing or MMA matches.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll outline the gist of our argument and evidence. We focus on the core argument for a ban on compensation for kidney donation, namely the paternalistic concern that even well-informed adults will sometimes be enticed by a financial reward to donate a kidney when in fact that is not in their “true” self-interest. In this view, the allure of money, especially for those who are in debt and struggling to make ends meet, will overcome good sense, leading to “exploitation” and even “coercion” to which people with less income and education are particularly vulnerable. But the same concerns apply with still greater force to participation in violent sports. Whatever one concludes about the ethics of regulating risky choices, and the problematic aspects of choices involving money and risk, the current circumstance – ban compensation for kidney donors, permit compensation for participation in violent sports – appears difficult to defend.

Over the next few days, I’ll touch on these key points: the medical risk to participants, the consent process, social justice concerns, and social welfare considerations. The medical risks to a professional career in football, boxing, and other violent sports are much greater both in the near and long term than the risks of donating a kidney. On the other hand, the consent and screening process in professional sports is not as developed as in kidney donation. The social justice concerns stem from the fact that most players are black and some come from impoverished backgrounds. Finally, the net social benefit from compensating kidney donors – namely, saving thousands of lives each year and reducing the suffering of 100,000 more receiving dialysis – far exceeds the net social benefit of entertaining the public through professional sports.

Download the piece here. And check back in over the next few days for subsequent posts.

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The NCAA and Taboo Trades

“It cannot be said that the Employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students’”

The National Labor Relations Board Region 13

Northwestern University (Employer), and College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) (Petitioner)

Case 13-Rc-121359

imagesRegular Lounge readers have heard me discuss before my seminar on Taboo Trades and Forbidden Markets.  Although markets in human organs, gametes, sex work, commercial surrogacy, and the like are probably more standard fare in a course of this nature, I think that college athletics and amateurism also have a place, and I normally spend some time each semester on college sports (plus, it’s Duke, what do you expect? There’s probably some requirement that we discuss basketball in class, but no one told me about it, since I always discuss basketball in class anyway)*

This year, though, the landscape feels different to me. Perhaps I’m just particularly attuned to these cases, given my research interests in the area, but I’m dedicating more class time to college athletics this year and there is certainly a lot more to cover. Most folks have probably heard by now about yesterday’s NLRB ruling in favor of the Northwestern players. For those who want to read the full ruling, I’ve uploaded a copy here.

Northwestern will appeal, of course, but regardless of the ultimate outcome, I find the ruling interesting, both because of the language and reasoning employed by Peter Sung Ohr, director of the board’s Chicago regional office, and because of what the ruling might signal about the broader legal environment. Coupled with progress in the O’Bannon case, the recent antitrust complaint filed by Jeff Kessler (of NFL free agency fame) against the NCAA and five conferences alleging a cartel that illegally caps player compensation, and controversy surrounding head injuries in football, it seems to me that the NCAA is under fire as never before.

I’ll be back in subsequent posts with more to say about these other cases, but for now I just wanted to highlight a few parts of the NLRB ruling. Ohr concluded that “all grant-in-aid scholarship players for the Employer’s football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are “employees” under Section 2(3) of the Act.” In so finding, Ohr reviewed the football staff, player rules, athletes’ time commitment to the sport, their recruitment and academic life, and the revenues and expenses generated by Northwestern’s football program, all of which makes for interesting reading. I found this excerpt particularly noteworthy (emphasis mine):

[I]t cannot be said the Employer’s scholarship players are “primarily students.” The players spend 50 to 60 hours per week on their football duties during a one-month training camp prior to the start of the academic year and an additional 40 to 50 hours per week on those duties during the three or four month football season. Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies. In fact, the players do not attend academic classes while in training camp or the first few weeks of the regular season. After the academic year begins, the players still continue to devote 40 to 50 hours per week on football-related activities while only spending about 20 hours per week attending classes. Obviously, the players are also required to spend time studying and completing their homework as they have to spend time practicing their football skills even without the direct orders of their coaches. But it cannot be said that they are “primarily students” who “spend only a limited number of hours performing their athletic duties.”

In today’s class, we cover some background reading, including excerpts from a book by my colleague, Charlie Clotfelter, Big Time Sports In American Universities.

*Note to Klein, Ramseyer, and Bainbridge: can you do something about all those baseball cases in the book, since that is not a sport that I watch?

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