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Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 13.1 (2003) 53-64

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Incentives for Providing Organs

Patricia Milmoe McCarrick and Martina Darragh

After a contentious debate at its 2002 annual meeting, the American Medical Association's House of Delegates voted to endorse the opinion of its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs that the impact of financial incentives on organ donation should be studied (Josefson 2002). The shortage of organs for transplantation has been an ongoing problem for more than 20 years. In June1981, Representative Philip Crane (R-IL) introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives proposing a $25,000 income tax deduction and a $25,000 estate tax exclusion for donating an organ (Tax Incentives 1981). Still the National Organ Transplant Act enacted in October 1984 prohibited the offering of any "valuable consideration" in return for organs (United States 1984).

The developments of a legal market for tissues in the United States and a black market for organs around the world have raised the question of whether donation without compensation is the only ethically viable option. Some critics of the current system claim reliance on donation actually promotes a black market in organs (Kaserman and Barnett 2002, p. 38; Palmer 1999, p. 36). In addition, a new set of compensation issues has arisen as living kidney donor transplantations begin to rival those performed with cadaveric organs (United States 2001).

As a result, current suggestions for incentives go far beyond the traditional death benefit payment to include such ideas as medals of honor for donors, reimbursement for funeral expenses, exchange programs for organ donation, and special medical insurance for living organ donors. Numerous bills introduced into the 107th Congress have proposed such incentives (Delmonico et al. 2002.) In October 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $5.2 million in grants to study both clinical and behavioral interventions for increasing organ donations that do not involve incentives. The inspiration for some of the funded proposals comes from the successes of Spain's social services and the United Kingdom's clinical administration of organ procurement programs (Robeznieks 2002). [End Page 53]

With a nod to evidence-based medicine, the underlying concern expressed in much of the current literature is that no idea for increasing the supply of organs should be discounted before it is studied. This bibliography provides a short introduction to the range of opinions expressed on the issue of incentives for providing organs.

al-Mousawi, M.; Samhan, M.; al-Mezairee I.; Razzak, M.A.; and Khawari, F. Cadaver Organ Procurement in Kuwait. Transplantation Proceedings 31 (8): 3375-76, 1999.

The authors describe a protocol that significantly increased cadaveric organ donation and credit it with fostering the expansion of an organ sharing program among the Arab Gulf states. Developed by Kuwaiti neurologists and anesthetists after a continuing education course on transplantation, the protocol places a special emphasis on the role of local transplant coordinators who facilitate the investigation of brain death cases by neurologists.

Arnold, Robert; Bartlett, Steven; Bernat, James; et al. [Ethics Committee of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons] Financial Incentives for Cadaver Organ Donation: an Ethical Reappraisal. Transplantation 73 (8): 1361-67, 27 April 2002.

To prepare for proposed studies of financial incentives for organ donation, the American Society of Transplant Surgeons convened a panel to develop a methodology for evaluating the ethics of such research. Comprised of organ procurement organization executives, physicians, surgeons, and ethicists, the panel generated a list of nine criteria for use in judging any incentives proposal. While opposed to direct payment or tax incentives for organ donation, a majority of the members support funeral expense reimbursement or charitable contributions as incentives that would not violate or undermine the ideal of altruism.

Cameron, J. Stewart, and Hoffenberg, Raymond. The Ethics of Organ Transplantation Reconsidered: Paid Organ Donation and the Use of Executed Prisoners as Donors. Kidney International 55 (2): 724-32, February 1999.

After reviewing arguments for and against payment for organ procurement, the authors apply these arguments to the specific case of obtaining organs from executed...


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