Can Markets Save Lives? An Experimental Investigation of a Market for Organ Donations
Many people die while waiting for organ transplants even though the number of usable organs is far larger than the number needed for transplant. Governments have devised many policies aimed at increasing available transplant organs with variable success. However, with few exceptions, policy makers are reluctant to establish markets for organs despite the potential for mutually beneficial exchanges. We ask whether organ markets could save lives. Controlled laboratory methods are ideal for this inquiry because human lives would be involved when implementing field trials. Our results suggest that markets can increase the supply of organs available for transplant, but that the specific institutional design of such markets must be carefully considered. However, the increased supply of transplantable organs derives disproportionately from the poor. We also find that exogenously reducing incentives to keep one’s organs has a similar effect to creating a market, but with equitable donation rates across income levels.
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