I wasn’t going to do it, I wrote this and spiked it, but there is so much coverage of this story that I have to do it.
There are many worries about the changes wrought by self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs) but here is one that nobody thought of before: it might seriously reduce the number of organs available for transplant. Ian Adams and Anne Hobson write in Slate:
The authors worry that driverless cars will save many lives, reducing the number of organs available.
It’s morbid, but the truth is that due to limitations on who can contribute transplants, among the most reliable sources for healthy organs and tissues are the more than 35,000 people killed each year on American roads (a number that, after years of falling mortality rates, has recently been trending upward). Currently, 1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim of a vehicular accident.
We’re all for saving lives—we aren’t saying that we should stop self-driving cars so we can preserve a source of organ donation. But we also need to start thinking now about how to address this coming problem.
Now when you read a bit further it becomes clear that the self-driving car angle was just a clickbait, a tease, to draw readers into the real agenda, which is to permit the sale of organs. It is not really about self-driving cars at all. And we really don’t know, self-driving cars could even increase the donor base, since another source is people who die from drug overdoses, and with self-driving cars drivers might OD instead of driving. Or they might fight with their spouse and shoot them, another big source, instead of concentrating on the road. Really, if you don’t have to look at the road, there are so many other ways to get into trouble.
Finally, the statistic of “1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim of a vehicular accident.” They do not say how many of those vehicles are motorcycles, which are disproportionately represented in the head injury statistics. I do not think anyone is proposing self-driving motorcycles.
Then there is the question of the effect of self-driving cars on our health. Some believe that we will just whistle up AVs for short trips; Without them, we might have walked and got some exercise. They see them as the solution to the “last mile problem” of how one gets from transit stop to home. When in fact, the best solution to the last mile is just to walk.
For many (not all) kidney failure is a result of lifestyle, the result of obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise. Perhaps instead of worrying about how self-driving cars might have on the supply of kidney and other organ donors, they might try to reduce demand for kidneys, by promoting walkable and cyclable cities.
In summary, I think it can be said that there are going to be many impacts and changes that come from the introduction of self-driving cars, but organ supply is not going to be one of the bigger issues. Besides, in a few years we will just be 3D printing organs anyway.