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Is It Legal to Sell a Kidney or Other Organs?

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on August 21, 2012 9:48 AM

Is it legal to sell a kidney or other bodily organ? You may have heard of it happening in China, where a 17-year-old boy allegedly sold his kidney and used some of the money to buy an iPad and iPhone.

Chinese authorities arrested nine people and put them on trial for the allegedly unlawful operation, CNN reports.

But what if the teen's kidney sale had happened in the United States?

Under U.S. federal law, it is illegal to sell a kidney or any other bodily organ. The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, sponsored by then-Congressman Al Gore (D-Tenn.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), specifically states:

"It shall be 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."

The law imposes a maximum $50,000 fine and five years in prison for any violation. Most state laws also prohibit the sale of organs for profit.

Organs specifically covered by the federal law include the kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, cornea, eye, skin, bone, and bone marrow.

However, the Ninth Circuit ruled in December 2011 that bone marrow extracted via aspheresis -- a method similar to getting blood drawn -- was legally different from what the 1984 law aimed to ban.

The ruling means it's now legal to get paid for bone marrow donations in the nine western states that must abide by the Ninth Circuit's decisions.

But because the Justice Department has declined to seek Supreme Court review, activists expect the bone marrow decision to have nationwide effect, NBC News reports.

Despite it being illegal to sell a kidney or other organs, donors are still allowed to be reimbursed for actual costs, like reasonable medical expenses and lost wages. If you have questions about whether a donation procedure or compensation is legal, it may be wise to consult a local attorney for guidance.

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