Britons ponder whether to pay organ donors

Tue Apr 20, 2010 6:05am EDT
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britons are being asked if people should get cash incentives to donate eggs and sperm, and whether the funeral expenses of organ donors should be paid in a bid to address a severe shortage in supply.

Britain has one of the lowest rates of organ donation, at just 13 per million of population compared with 35 per million in Spain where a "presumed consent" system operates, which effectively make everyone a potential donor unless they choose to opt out.

The UK medical ethics think-tank the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a public consultation to look at whether people think it is right that donors should receive payments or other incentives to meet a growing demand.

Currently paying people to donate most organs, beyond offering modest expenses, is currently illegal in Britain but a shortage has forced many to seek treatment overseas.

About 8,000 people need an organ transplant in Britain each year and hundreds die waiting for a suitable donor.

Professor Marilyn Strathern, chairman of the Council's inquiry into the issue, said: "We could try to increase the number of organ donors by providing stronger incentives, such as cash, paying funeral costs or priority for an organ in future, but would this be ethical?"

The Council said incentives could be non-financial, such as offering letters of thanks, T-shirts, mugs or vouchers, or allowing future donors to jump the queue for transplants should they later need one.

"We also need to think about the morality of pressing people to donate their bodily material," Strathern said.   Continued...