New York, NY (October 8, 2002) - The National Kidney Foundation's (NKF) Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose any effort to legalize payment for human organs.
NKF Chairman, Andrew N. Baur said "the national shortage of organs for transplant is a major concern of the NKF and we will intensify our efforts to encourage people to donate organs when a loved one has died. But we cannot condone or support paying for organs." NKF first raised the issue of "financial incentives" for organ donation in 1991 at a conference called "Controversies in Organ Donation." Since that time the issue has been hotly debated. The debate has intensified in recent months as the number of people waiting for a non-living donor has dramatically increased.
Payment for organs was outlawed by Congress in 1984. Since then, efforts have been made by some organizations to ask Congress to remove the ban, at least for a test. Baur added, "NKF will strongly urge Congress not to allow a system of paying families to be initiated. Payments would be very easy to start…but, impossible to stop."
In attacking the organ shortage, the NKF is committed to working with organ procurement and transplant professionals to educate families about organ donation. The foundation also encourages and assists potential living donors who are so important now in transplantation. Baur continued, "NKF is also very active in helping recipients keep their transplant so they won't need another organ."
Ellen Gottman-Kulik, Chair of NKF's Donor Family Council stated, "Money is an insult to donor families. A son or daughter's heart should not be 'worth' $300. The Gift of Life is a gift and no person's organs should be made into a commodity."
In a recent survey of families who refused to donate organs of their loved ones who had died, 92% said that payment would not have persuaded them to donate.*
The NKF Board's decision covers payment made directly to families or indirectly through funeral homes. Many different mechanisms have been proposed by transplant groups, ranging from tax credits to insurance policies to gifts to charities.
"There is no way to do this and maintain our values as a society. The voluntary system we have, free of coercion or commercialization, is the only ethical way medicine can be practiced in the United States," Baur said.
Brian Pereira, MD, NKF President and chief medical volunteer said, "The fact that the organ shortage has led to a sense of desperation does not condone actions that set a dangerous precedent. We in the U.S. also have a global responsibility. Even a token payment to encourage non-living organ donation could be viewed in developing countries as an endorsement of the organ trade that currently exists."
The Board stressed that its statement also applied to any sort of payment for living donors. Such payments are common in some countries and attempts have been made in the U.S. through websites and advertising to solicit kidneys for cash.
Baur added, "The Board wanted our statement to be strong and unequivocal. We must be able to say to our patients and the public, we don't pay for organs, period. We must have a voluntary system so that all families who made a decision to save someone's life can proudly say, we 'donated' organs."
The National Kidney Foundation, a major voluntary health organization, seeks to prevent kidney and urinary tract diseases, improve the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increase the availability of all organs for transplantation.
*Siminoff LA and Mercer MB. Public Policy, Public Opinion, and Consent for Organ Donation. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 10(4): 377-386, 2001