It's About Organ Donation, OK?

So, my girlfriend and I were watching the 7pm Project just before MasterChef started today, and there was a segment about organ donation. Naturally, my ears perked up. I’ve always had been interested in organ donation. Call it a perverse interest, but I like to think about how to match up organ donors to recipients – an obsession undoubtedly sparked by Al Roth. Amongst the thoughts of organ donation, I too often think about stuff like the liquidity of the organ market – that is to say, how many willing/able organs are there which at any given moment are able to be donated – and how to increase such liquidity. Of course, when such questions posed in a less-than-delicate manner, had led some colleagues of mine to wonder if I am actually sane * I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested . Today I’ll talk about some of my views on organ donation.

Here’s the 7pm Project video in question (starts about 5 minutes in):

I,Organ Donor

So as soon as that segment finished, I reaffirmed to my partner again that should I die, I would want as many of my organs to be donated as soon as possible. And once again, I’m reaffirming here on this blog. Shortly after, she raised a point about how some of her religious friends had issues with organ donation.

Religious Objections

For a moment I was relatively surprised that there are religions that prohibit organ donation. Then I started recalling an ex-girlfriend of mine who was very religiously Christian wanting her body to be kept whole should she die. Of course, the reasoning for her was simple – the body was to be the receptacle for the soul come Judgment Day. I personally find the concept silly and had probably snorted in derision back then, and promptly forgot about it till today.

I think in a world with a majority of barbaric religions (ask yourself: which of the three major Abrahamic religions does not condemn barbaric punishment practices like the stoning of women? The answer is none), it should come to no surprise that they’re inherently quite selfish too. These bronze age religions of desert goat-herders and war mongers – all three of them – generally place an importance of having the complete body upon death. Jews are supposed to leave the body untouched after death for it is sacred unto their god. Christians believe that the body is the receptacle of the soul and a complete body is necessary for ressurection. Muslims generally frown on autopsies for the same reason as the Jews.

Of course, modern religious scholars come up with interpretations of their respective holy texts – I certainly won’t comment on their progressiveness, nor will I comment on what I think to be a movement of revisionism just to keep a religion relevant in modern society. Plenty of sects now do indeed allow for organs to be transplanted (both in and out), but still a lot of sects exist where organ donations are prohibited. Even those that allow organ transplants mostly only allow them after death, which does not really solve the problem of liquidity for non-life-dependent organs (like kidneys).

Market for Organs

With regards to increasing the liquidity of the organ market (again, this means increasing the availability of organs), I had once suggested we make a market for non-essential organs (kidneys, parts of livers, blabla) – essentially being able to trade money for the organ being donated – to a colleague. This was of course met with wide-eyed stares and dropped jaws, followed by “ARE YOU MAD??”.

No, I am not mad. Neither am I a crazy capitalist committed on conning civilians. I do think an open market would work. Because it is late at night and I have much better things to do, here’s a short lay man version of why an open market would work without going too deeply into the math:

  1. There are currently black markets for organ donations.
  2. These black market operations are more often than not funded by criminal activities (kidnapping of tourists etc).
  3. We have no visibility of what happens in the black market.
  4. Having a structured market in place, you shift the demand from the black market to the proper market.
  5. Incentives for participating in black market  activities will drop.

Of course there is a flipside of the argument, and a lot of it sounds something like these:

Bad news people. There already exists a whole black market for organ transplant tourism. Notice my use of the word ‘tourism’. More often than not, the richer people will travel to the poorer place to get a transplant done, because the market for organs is entirely point-based. It is made up of many many many many spot markets with each spot market in different geo-locations and different compatibility. Again, this is why a market would work – because of its inherent discontinuity.

Designing the Market

I do remember during my market design course in uni, I wrote a paper about using graph theory to determine ideal number of matches in the organ donation market. 2 years on, I still think it’s a good idea. Of course, had I done my research a little more, I would have realized that Gentry, Michael and Segev had solved this way back in 2005, and I was something like 4 years behind the curve. But the point is at the time, it sounded really cool. It still does now.

I had spent the whole semester reading up on kidney compatibilities, and organ compatibilities.  Seems like a bit of a waste today, but at least that still makes it a topic that I am interested in and I can engage in hours of conversations on this topic.

Here I must refer you to whom I think are probably the top minds in this field – Sommer Gentry and her husband,  (something – remember to check and replace) Segev.  Their weighted edge graph and usage of Edmonds algorithm to find maximum branching of the graph is nothing short of brilliant* In a complete non-sequitur, the last time I used the Edmonds algorithm was last month, in which I attempted to crack New Phyrexia’s box mappings using graph theory – after a few restarts due to processor strain, I gave up. Yes, people use their knowledge of math to good use and I use it for extremely selfish and mostly recreational reasons. I feel depressed. Sigh .


There has been less questions and quandaries though than I would have expected about the ethics of organ donation. I guess with more and more knowledge about the brain, I no longer see brain-deadness as a taboo subject. To me, if I am brain dead, you can shut off the machine and start the harvesting of my organs. It’s that simple.

In the past, I would have debated otherwise – that only on cardiac failure are you allowed to take my heart * but hey, I have two hearts, so I can regenerate! I just need the zero room in my TARDIS… . Now, in light of more new knowledge of the brain, you can take my life-dependent organ as soon as I am brain dead.

And the Procrastination Ends

Why am I writing this in the middle of the night? I don’t know * This is a lie. I actually do know – I’m procrastinating writing my Paypal integration script for one of my projects . But organ donation has been a subject I’ve been keenly interested in, though I have not actually keenly followed political developments. As usual I will go back lurking in the night, constantly thinking how to solve the problem of increasing liquidity of the market, how to perform ideal and perfect matches for the market to work, and assorted interesting albeit slightly academic questions on organ donation.

For now I shall go back to work on my other projects. Tell me what are your thoughts on organ donations, mmkay?

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