Episode 4: Why Can’t I Buy A Kidney?

It can take years to get to the top of the waiting list for a donated kidney in the U.S. So when Sally Satel found out she’d need a kidney transplant, she wondered why she couldn’t just buy one. We’ll hear from a behavioral economist and a bioethicist who shed light on the ban on organ sales and whether it’s possible to create an ethical compensation program for organs.


Sally Satel

Dr. Sally Satel is a resident scholar at AEI and the medical director of a methadone clinic in D.C. Dr. Satel was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University from 1988 to 1993 and remains a lecturer at Yale. From 1993 to 1994 she was a Robert Wood Johnson policy fellow with the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. She has written widely in academic journals on topics in psychiatry and medicine, and has published articles on cultural aspects of medicine and science in numerous magazines and journals. She has testified before Congress on veterans’ issues, mental health policy, drug courts, and health disparities. Dr. Satel is author of Drug Treatment: The Case for Coercion (AEI Press, 1999), among other books. Her recent book, co-authored with Emory psychologist Scott Lilienfeld is Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (Basic, 2013). Brainwashed was a finalist for the 2013 Los Angeles TimesBook Prize in Science. She is currently working on a book on addiction based on a year she spent in Appalachia.

Jeffrey Kahn

Andreas C. Dracopolous Director
Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

Mario Macis

Johns Hopkins Carey Business School
Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

Additional Resources

This episode references the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), passed in 1984. This act established the national Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network (OPTN), which is operated by an outside contractor, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). 

The OPTN has its own ethics committee that has written guiding principles that influence how organs are allocated in the US. You can read this guidance here

The Greenwall Foundation seeks to make bioethics integral to decisions in health care, policy, and research. Learn more at greenwall.org.

Continue the Conversation

We want to hear your thoughts about this episode. Please share them using the form below and your comments could be posted on this page and made accessible to other listeners.