Sunday, October 25, 2009

I pay thy poverty, and not thy will

In Romeo and Juliet, there is the scene where Romeo goes to an Apothecary to obtain a poison. Juliet is presumed dead; Romeo wishes to go to the Capulet's family tomb, take the poison and join her in a deadly embrace. The Apothecary hesitates: distribution of such poisons is against local law. The two have the following exchange:

ROMEO: Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness, and fear'st to die? Famine is in thy cheeks, need and oppression starveth in thine eyes, contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back. The world is not thy friend nor the world's law. The world affords no law to make thee rich; then be not poor, but break it, and take this.

APOTHECARY: My poverty, but not my will, consents.

ROMEO: I pay thy poverty, and not thy will.

I was reminded of this exchange while reading a blog post on the Washington Post website, entitled 'In Praise of Human Organ Sales.' The author, Gary S. Becker (a Nobel prize-winning economist) argues that allowing people to buy and sell their organs would help solve the problem of shortages in organs for transplant, while countering possible objections to this idea. Neither the proposition nor the objection are particularly new; people working in bioethics have made this proposal before and objected to it before. The novelty lies in how quickly and brutally Becker states his case. His response to issues of social justice is succinct:

Another set of critics fears that the organ supply would be likely to come mainly from the poor, who would be induced to sell their organs to the rich. It is hard to see any reasons to complain if organs of poor persons were sold with their permission after they died, and the proceeds went as bequests to their parents or children. The complaints would be louder if, for example, mainly poor persons sold one of their kidneys for live kidney transplants, but why would poor donors be better off if this option were taken away from them?

It is true, the poor who sell their organs, either when they are alive or posthumously, would get their cut -- like the Apothecary. The rich would get their organs, and the middlemen, well, they would get richer. The poor would be mined -- with their agreement, of course -- for organs, without this sacrifice of body parts being likely to improve their lot very much. They would not be in a position, for instance, to buy organs for themselves if they needed them. For their part, the rich would have no (economic) motivation to put up their own organs for sale. Hard to see any reasons to complain here? Depends where you are looking. Romeo was unbalanced, and desperate, but at least he was honest: I pay thy poverty, and not thy will.

Thanks to Steve Levingston at Washington Post, who sent me the link to Becker's piece, and thereby informed me about the Post's excellent Book World blog.

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Blogger Anna said...

He is a Nobel prize-winner! He can do everything! Clenbuterol

8:50 AM  

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