Reasonable payment may help fill vast need for more organ donors

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

There is the science-fiction horror, along the lines of the best-selling novel ''Coma,'' in which humans are stored in meat lockers so their body parts can be sold on a lucrative black market to the ailing rich.

Then there is the real-life horror of some 80,000 people waiting for new vital organs. More than 100 people die every week, still waiting. And the numbers on the waiting list continue to grow, far outstripping the supply of donor organs.

... So it was surprising and refreshing that the American Medical Association this week took a small but significant step forward. The delegates backed a proposal to study using money to motivate patients and their families to donate organs.

The AMA is on the right track, but doctors and lawmakers have been fretting over the issue for the better part of a decade, while thousands of patients have died. It's time to stop arguing and face facts. Yes, paying for organs will work. One 1999 survey showed as little as $500 to $1,000 would increase donation rates enough to virtually eliminate the kidney waiting list.

... Critics worry that any system beyond the purely voluntary will cheapen life and create the notion that body parts are mere commodities. But as transplant science advances it is clear that some vital organs are, in a sense, commodities, albeit precious. Letting people die for want of a new kidney liver or heart isn't going to change that reality.

... The demand for organs in this country can be largely filled by those from cadavers, if only potential donors and their families can be convinced to donate. Many families, of course, have religious or ethical qualms. Fair enough. But for many others, if a reasonable sum of money helps -- and it does with most things in life -- then it should be provided through a discreet and regulated system.

-- Chicago Tribune

June 23

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