May 30, 2007

Name that kidney donor

Sally Satel, the recipient of a kidney from Virginia Postrel, says a Dutch TV show in which a dying woman raffles off her kidney with help from the viewing audience, is "sick and shocking," but she's still in favor of the show.
Sensationalism is a powerful way to call attention to the desperate shortage of kidneys and to the tens of thousands of needless deaths each year that occur all over the world because not enough altruistic donors step forward.

Indeed, the very idea behind the De Grote Donorshow (The Big Donor Show) is to shine a spotlight on the plight of patients who need a kidney. The show is intended as a tribute to the founder of the network -- Bart de Graaff --who died in 2002 at age 35 because he could not survive the years-long wait for a new kidney.

Virginia Postrel points out that a 40-year-old woman left her 10-year-old son without a mother for want of a kidney.

It's awful that two relatively young people went to their deaths because of a kidney shortage. It seems so unfair. But why is a 40-year-old mother more deserving of a kidney than the unknown person who was ahead of her on the list? Life is full of such inequities. If it's unfair that a 35-year-old man died for want of a kidney, how fair is it that Lisa, the potential Dutch donor with the terminal illness, will die before her 38th birthday?

There may be a better way to distribute kidneys to patients. I know Postrel is in favor of allowing people to sell their kidneys. That makes me uncomfortable because of the potential for exploitation, but perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe opening up a legal market will see that both recipient and donor are treated fairly. It also might eliminate the rumored practice by the Chinese of harvesting the organs of political dissidents.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm pretty sure that selecting recipients in the style of "American Idol" to receive the organs of a not-quite-dead woman isn't the answer.

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