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Is It Legal to Sell Your Own Organs?

Whether for the sake of pure curiosity or in the face of financial hardship, many have likely wondered whether selling an organ would be legal.

After all, there is a perpetual need for organs for use in organ transplants. And according to the National Kidney Foundation, organs such as the kidney and parts of the lung, liver, and pancreas are among those can be transplanted from living individuals.

But is it legal to sell your organs?

National Organ Transplant Act

A federal law passed in 1984 known as the National Organ Transplant Act expressly forbids the transfer of human organs by any means other than donation. Under the act, it is "unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation if the transfer affects interstate commerce."

Among the organs specifically mentioned by the act are the kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, bone marrow, cornea, eye, bone, and skin of a human, including a fetus. Violation of this law can result in a fine of up to $50,000 and a prison term of up to five years.

Although laws vary by state, in most instances a donor of an organ may receive reimbursement for certain medical costs related to the organ donation. Generally however, the donor may not be reimbursed for travel, housing, or lost wages incurred by the donation.

Bone Marrow May Be Sold

Despite being mentioned specifically in the federal law forbidding the sale of organs, bone marrow donors may now be compensated in some circumstances for bone marrow, after a 2011 federal court decision. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that bone marrow donations are more like blood donations thanks to recent advances in medical technology.

To learn more about legal issues involving health care decisions, head over to FindLaw's section on Patient Rights.

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