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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