Organ Donation As a Club Good Rather Than a Public Good

Michael Giberson

Al Roth, blogging at Market Design, discusses Lifesharers in a post “Lifesharers: organ donation as a club good rather than a public good“:

Deceased organ donation is a public good in the sense that everyone is better off in expectation if everyone else is willing to donate their organs when they die, but no one receives any direct benefit from donating his organs after death (and there must be perceived costs to donation, since not everyone is a donor).

Economists often worry about how to provide public goods …

In between public and private goods are “club goods,” like a park or country club that is funded by members, and is only open to members and their guests. The idea of LifeSharers is that organ donation can be a club good: members indicate that they are willing to donate their organs, giving first preference to other members.

That isn’t exactly the standard version of the economic term “public good,” but I guess we can make allowances for the remark being a blog post rather than an research article.

Roth frequently posts on organ donation and related topics. See his posts tagged kidney exchange and compensation for donors.

Previous posts on organ donation here at Knowledge Problem include “Life on the Kidney Queue in the Land of the Market” and “Markets for Kidney Transplants.”

2 thoughts on “Organ Donation As a Club Good Rather Than a Public Good

  1. LifeSharers offers an excellent trade — if you’ll agree to doante your organs through LifeSharers after you die, LifeSharers will increase your chances of getting a transplant if you ever need one to live. Most of the 100,000+ people on the U.S. transplant waiting list will die waiting, so the chance to improve your odds could literally mean the difference between life and death.

    LifeSharers membership is free at or at 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

  2. Leaving aside the misapplication of “public good” as a term of art, it strikes me that both personal and private interest is better served by treating, say, “humanity” as my club, rather than “some self-identified subpool.”

    I note further that the article says:

    So far none of the network’s members have died or donated organs, but 23 are on the national transplant waiting list. Undis says members must be part of the LifeSharers network for at least 180 days to qualify for benefits, a provision he said he hopes will discourage people from waiting until they’re sick to sign up.

    Note that the facts in the first sentence suggest that his hope in the second sentence is not coming to fruition. What are the odds that any significant fraction of those 23 people waiting for organs (a) had average odds of needing a transplant before signing up, OR b) would now be medically-acceptable as donors to others? One suspects that those 23 folks, at least, are hoping for a “cheap” organ. I can’t blame them for that, because I’m sure they are in real need, but LifeSharers doesn’t sound like it’s playing a useful role there.

    What about the other people who’ve signed up for LifeSharers? I’d feel slightly better about the organization if *each* of those people had pre-LifeSharers been signed up as *general* organ donors, on their driver’s license or whatever. At minimum I would hope that LifeSharers would require such action as a condition of membership. Otherwise LifeSharers is promoting selfishness and potential waste, imho, rather than encouraging people to permit their organs to be donated when they don’t need them anymore.

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