Transplants and free riders

I’ve just watched Steve Jobs at the Apple event today. I was glad he paid tribute to the man whose liver he received, and that he called on others to register as organ donors.

But it is  less impressive to see people come to this issue only after they themselves need an organ.  I don’t recall Mr Jobs using his celebrity to promote this issue before.

I think it would be a good idea to introduce the presumption that people who register as organ donors will jump the queue if they themselves subsequently need an organ.  Perhaps that would focus some minds.

For the record, if I should die, please use anything that still works; and sent the rest to med school for dissection training or whatever they do.  I won’t care then, and as a person living today I like to think that I might be useful.

3 comments on “Transplants and free riders”

  1. Owen

    Fully agree that Steve Jobs did well to pay tribute to the ‘person’, who generously donated their liver for his life saving transplant. Incidentally, in his speech he did not mention the gender. It may well have been a female…

    In his defence however, I think it is perfectly understandable that he had not promoted organ donations in the past. Why would he? There were similar remarks too after he successfully overcame pancreatic cancer a few years back. He is an incredibly private man and I would argue has no moral obligation to discuss his health in public (unless to fulfil his obligations as the CEO of a listed company).

    If we are honest – we could all probably do a bit more to raise awareness of this important issue. We probably just need a reminder from time to time. And Steve Jobs has reminded us.

    I suspect that his comments at the Apple keynote will do more than enough to encourage people to step up and donate. The story has generated widespread interest throughout new and old media. It’s certainly got people talking.

    Owen replies:

    Jason – good catch about the gender of the donor. I don’t know what made me assume the donor was male.

    I am not saying Steve Jobs had a ‘moral obligation’ to advocate organ donation before he himself needed one. I am saying that his current advocacy would be considerably more impressive if he had done so.

    It is shocking that because of a combination of laziness, selfishness and religious doctrine, people are dying or suffering for lack of suitable organs. We should do more to address this.

  2. Rather than use incentives – why not just use a little nudging? Make people organ donors by default, and give them an easy option to opt out. I think you’ll find that most people are in the ‘lazy’ (or indifferent) category.

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and