Saturday, June 02, 2007

KIdney Donation Show a Hoax

I hadn't written about the Dutch game show where sick contestants vie for a kidney transplant. I've been burned previously by blogging about things that turned out not to be true. Once again, the outrageous turns out just to be an elaborate public relations ploy to get more people to donate organs.

Captain Ed discussed the fact that market forces take over in virtually any human situation, and organ donation is no different. The problem is that we've decided to make it different. That is, we've determined that human organs should be donated and not paid for.

This creates a huge supply and demand problem, because most people either don't think about donating their organs or are squeamish about doing so. That leads to rationing, which is why 18 people die per day waiting for a transplant organ.

Lamentably, too many transplant professionals are resigned to rationing. The alternative is to create a larger supply of organs -- and the most likely way to achieve it is through a safe, regulated system in which donors can receive compensation for their organs. The idea of rewarding living donors for a kidney, or their estates if they give an organ after death, has long been taboo. Yet as thousands die every year the idea is being taken more seriously -- and it should be.

A growing number of physicians, legal scholars and ethicists are urging pilot studies of a regulated system with strong donor protections. This would require Congress to amend the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act so people who give organs could receive "valuable consideration." Such consideration could take many forms, perhaps something as simple as offering them lifelong Medicare coverage. This could also serve as a compelling incentive to other prospective donors. Or Congress could grant waivers so that states can implement their own creative incentive ideas, perhaps using tax credits or tuition vouchers.

As one commenter at Captain's Quarters pointed out, everybody else gets compensated for their contribution: the doctor, the nurses, the staff, the hospital. They all get compensated. But not the donor, and sometimes insurance won't even pay for the costs that donor endures.

It may be unseemly to talk about compensating donors (I can see the guests lining up for Jerry Springer now), but there are only two ways of increasing donors: by law and by compensation. We don't want to mandate that people must donate their organs; it would be a strange argument for the pro-abortion crowd to make that bodily integrity is important when wanting to kill one's offspring but not important when considering one's own DNA-bearing organs.

So, we are left with compensating donors. Will this create some scenarios where poor people donate more organs than wealthy ones, thereby "exploiting" the poor. Possibly. And it would certainly put some truth in that urban myth about waking up in a bathtub of ice cubes and finding your kidney gone.

But we compensate people for donating plasma. It seems like the best way to encourage voluntary organ donation is by some compensation for it.