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Controversial study suggests financial compensation would increase organ donations

By in Technology

CONNOR THORPE — Capilano Courier (Capilano University)

Would you donate your organs for cash? What if you had to do it in a scary-ass room like this?

NORTH VANCOUVER (CUP) — Would a financial incentive make you more likely to donate an organ? A recent study conducted by the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and the University of Calgary says yes, noting that almost half of Canadians surveyed approve of the idea, despite the fact that the sale of organs is illegal in Canada.

The study, titled Attitudes Towards Strategies to Increase Organ Donation: Views of the General Public and Health Professionals, employed a web survey directed at the general public, health professionals and those affected by kidney disease.

“This study came about from a discussion on how to increase the pool of potential donors. In other words, how to get more people to step forward to donate, living or deceased,” said Lianne Barnieh, a researcher for the Liben Institute.

“To do this, we did a survey and enlisted the help of a survey firm for the general public, and professional groups for those working in the area of kidney disease, and finally the Kidney Foundation of Canada to reach out to their members and supporters. We found that, on the whole, people found financial incentives for donation acceptable.”

Barnieh said that there are over 3,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant in Canada and that 82 people died while waiting for one in 2010. The study hopes to encourage methods of increasing donation that will help speed up the process of transplantation.

“Being on dialysis, though life-extending, has a poorer quality of life compared with transplantation,” she went on to say. “As we only need one kidney to live, if we can find a way for people to consider giving their second kidney to a family member or friend suffering from kidney disease, we can reduce the waiting list.”

While the study itself did not examine ethical topics relating to financial incentives for organ donors, they did include detailed data about public acceptance of various approaches to the subject.

“There were varying levels of acceptability, depending on the incentive, between the three groups. Almost half the public found cash payment to living donors acceptable, whereas only 14 per cent of health professionals found this acceptable. The most acceptable incentives were reimbursement of funeral expenses for deceased donors and tax breaks for living donors,” said Barnieh.

“All of these financial incentives would be given out by a government organization. We did not, and would not, consider a system where money [would] be exchanged between individuals.”

The reasoning behind the projected increase of donations associated with a cash incentive is simple — people are often motivated by money.

“When looking at human behaviour, there is no one thing that motivates people,” said Barnieh. “Though some people give from the ‘goodness of their heart,’ others may need more to motivate them to donate. We are hoping that by offering financial incentives, we appeal to this other group of people.”

Barnieh dismissed the concern that low-income citizens may be exploited by the financial incentives.

“Firstly, the assumption that people with lower-income are only motivated by money for a given act is a very narrow view,” she said. “Secondly, though $10,000 can be a large incentive, it is not sufficient to completely change someone’s financial situation.

“In our study, when examining the results by household income, we did not find any evidence to suggest that those with lower household income would be more willing to consider donating than those with higher household income.”

Still, the ethics behind the study have come under fire — though the ethical implications behind offering financial incentives to organ donors was never a focus on the study.

“The ethics of offering money, or of other strategies, has been debated and continues to be debated elsewhere,” Barnieh said. “Before going further on this topic, we just wanted to know how Canadians felt about it.”

In an interview with CTV News, Arthur Schafer, an ethicist at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, explained the ethical difficulties in offering financial compensation for organ donors.

“Frankly, I think it would be bordering on obscene to offer financial compensation to the mother whose child has just died,” he said, suggesting that the diverse circumstances surrounding organ donations aren’t conducive to a standardized program like offering financial compensation.

It’s unclear what the next step will be for both researchers and policy makers involved in organ donations. Barnieh said that the study conducted by the Libin Institute is a good start.

“Now that we know Canadians find many financial incentives acceptable, we can find a way to move forward.”

Photo: Mike Lacon/Flickr

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