The New York Times Magazine | Malia Wollan
|Zully Broussard, 55, from Sacramento, was the “altruistic donor” of a kidney chain. A slide show of the rest of the chain is below. Credit Todd Hido for The New York Times|
Waiting for a donated organ is a long shot, and buying one is illegal. But sophisticated software, combined with old-fashioned selflessness, could be a solution.
Before surgeons stitched a kidney from a 32-year-old former Marine into his abdomen in March, Mark Kim spent almost two years on dialysis. He had lot of time to think while hooked up to the machine, three times a week, as it pumped his blood out of his body, purified it and pumped it back in. Sometimes he found himself mulling over how odd it was that a new kidney — the one thing he needed most — was something money couldn’t buy.
When his kidneys first failed him, all sorts of people offered to donate one: his neighbor, his two 20-something nieces, two old friends, his sister. But none could follow through, mostly because of incompatible blood types. Such supply-and-demand mismatches can cause prices to skyrocket in a normal market, and indeed, Kim heard hints about the organ’s economic value along the way. Once, at a backyard barbecue, a woman whispered to him that her mother purchased a kidney on the black market for $100,000.
Despite the crushing demand, the sale of kidneys is banned in every country in the world except Iran. In the U.S., more than 100,000 people with renal failure are on the list for a deceased-donor kidney, typically waiting between four and five years. Last year, 4,270 people died waiting. Few but free-market absolutists would argue for repealing the 1984 law banning the organ trade in the U.S., but most would agree something should be done to increase the supply of kidneys for transplant. In a sense, though, there’s already a global glut: While we are born with two kidneys, we can function just fine with one. The problem is that they’re stuck inside of us. Continue reading