Caveat: I am not well versed in law and haven't thought this through too much. It could be a spectacularly bad idea. It also could be a good idea, but bad for EA to be associated with it. If enough people think so and comment, I'll delete this post. [Edit: Perhaps this comment is a better idea, though with approximately the same risks.]

I've read most of the EA articles/posts about kidney donation. I also just read this.

It got me thinking, what about this scenario? A person

1) Secures funding for a protracted legal battle

2) Donates a kidney

3) Turns themselves in to the police, saying they were actually paid $1 for it (an absurdly small amount of money would make it a better story )

4) Fights a protracted legal battle, taking it through all levels of the court system, getting lots of press (possibly with simultaneous protests outside the courtroom), and helping to shape public opinion and eventually change the law

For a twist, perhaps it could be worked out where the donor was wealthy and/or famous and the recipient poor. Maybe there are also other details like that, that would make it more press-worthy.




Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:49 PM

Up-voted for interesting idea and for reminding me that Huemer is blogging.

I'd tread very carefully with something as physically and legally dangerous as this (or the black market non-profit), of course, and consult with lawyers before even considering it - maybe something related to this is the reason for the downvotes?

I agree it's a potentially valuable cause, but I think any less dangerous options that would move America towards allowing paid organ donation should obviously be preferred - off the top of my head I'm not sure what that would be, though.

Yes that makes sense for sure. Thanks for the feedback.

Would the people who down-voted this be willing to give a brief note about why?

I upvoted this post, because I thought the question was at least interesting enough to think about, and I liked that you didn't come in with a confident declaration of the idea's quality.

However, in my experience, posts that propose some major, novel form of action without any cost-effectiveness estimates (and without much other background) don't tend to do well on the Forum. I personally don't mind "questioning" posts where only the bare bones of an idea are brought forward, but I think the following would have helped with engagement:

  • Some background on the impact of other protracted legal battles fought with the goal of changing a law; how often does this sort of thing actually work? What factors typically separate successful from unsuccessful battles?
  • An estimate of how much this "battle" might cost, and for how valuable it would be to pass a law legalizing kidney sales (with consideration of positives and negatives). Even if X is a plausible strategy for accomplishing Y, we need to know the magnitude of Y's impact before deciding whether thinking about X is worthwhile. (For more on factors behind the impact of an activity, see this 80,000 Hours post on the "scale/neglectedness/solvability" framework.)

My guess is that, while some people are concerned about the PR implications of the idea, many others have a view along the lines of:

"Okay, this is one of a thousand things that might be better than AMF under some model or other. One thousand things is too many to evaluate, so posts like this aren't very helpful unless they have information that lets us actually get a sense for the likelihood that this is better than AMF."

Excellent criticisms thanks. I do, occasionally, have ideas like this that seem worth posting, but that I am unlikely to ever get around to if I wait until I have time to give them the full research treatment. I suppose it would make sense to note that in the original post.

It also occurs to me that, while the idea that organ sales should be legal seems like a pretty mainstream view in EA circles, there are likely some members of the forum that disagree with that. Perhaps that could be someone's reason for downvoting.

Or maybe a better idea. A "black market non-profit" that vets donors and purchases kidneys in order to start donation chains with them (rather than benefit a specific person). As long as it operates, it saves a lot of lives. If it gets into legal trouble, it's a pretty good story to get press coverage, and to help shift public opinion.

Wouldn't the prosecutor drop the charge?

You mean because it was $1 or because it's not usually enforced? The $1 part doesn't seem essential. Could make it $100k.

My impression is that government prosecutors have a lot of discretion, so if you look too sympathetic they would simply turn a blind eye rather than suffer the negative media attention.