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Taxing Human Body Part Sales

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November 12, 2009

It may seem ghoulish, but there does seem to be a controversy brewing over the appropriate tax treatment of sales of anatomical specimens such as human eggs and blood plasma, and even black market sales of kidneys and other vital organs.

University of Cincinnati tax law professor Paul Caron’s invaluable TaxProf blog cites a new story in The Wall Street Journal and a recent academic paper from Lisa Milot of the University of Georgia Law School addressing the subject. Milot notes that current law is unclear about the tax consequences of such sales. “There are no statutory provisions directly on point, Internal Revenue Service guidance is outdated and conflicting, and the small number of judicial decisions in this area are narrowly written to resolve only the tax liability of the particular taxpayer before the court,” she wrote.

Such sales are a controversial matter, and having the IRS wade into such murky territory may not necessarily be so helpful in resolving the ethical questions. But as organ transplants, surrogacy arrangements, in vitro fertilization and other procedures become ever more common, and donations give way to outright sales of such precious commodities, the tax authorities may have to get involved in resolving at least some of the financial ramifications of these highly personal transactions.

A “transplant tax” may not be so far off after all.

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