ORGAN DONATION: Anonymous Donations Raise Ethical Concern
While many organ transplant centers have traditionally turned away non-directed, or anonymous, organ donors in favor of using organs from cadavers, that "reluctance is dissolving fast," in light of a dwindling supply of organs, the Los Angeles Times reports. Even so, transplant doctors around the nation are debating the ethical and medical concerns that come with anonymous organ donation. The United Network for Organ Sharing ensures that organs from cadavers are distributed based on a regional "point system," in which organs are distributed based on how well they match a patient's tissue and how long a patient has been on the list. While no such rules apply to anonymous donations, some transplant centers that accept anonymous donations have voluntarily adopted them. Still, many medical experts maintain that anonymous donation is an untapped resource. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 25% of surveyed adults would consider donating a kidney to a stranger. Sally Greenwood, spokesperson for the BC Transplant Society, said, "The number of people who would really do it is nowhere near that high, we think. But even if it's just 1%, that could be a highly valuable and untapped pool of organs."
Even though anonymous donors could fulfill a need for organs, Dr. John Curtis, medical director of the University of Alabama- Birmingham's kidney transplant program, said, "We had better be very, very cautious with this group of donors and make sure they are coming to us for purely altruistic reasons." For that reason, anonymous donors undergo a series of psychological, as well as medical, evaluations before transplant centers accept their donation. For example, the University of Minnesota, which last year established a program for anonymous kidney donations, uses a psychological examination that includes a personality profile to probe a donor's background, education, relationships and any other relevant information. Cheryl Jacobs, a social worker for Minnesota's program, said, "We have to make sure of two things. First, that this person is competent to make this decision; and second, that they are doing it for truly altruistic reasons, and not some other, personal reasons." Recipients themselves or their insurance companies now pay for the operations, as selling organs is illegal. But some medical experts are concerned that transplant centers could begin competing to lure potential anonymous donors. Dr. Norman Levinsky, a Boston University medicine professor, said that competing for donors "pays off," adding, "You get organs for your own patients, on your list. And the more of these organs you get, the more you can build the reputation of your organization." Levinsky said that the "temptation to reimburse donors will be strong." Although some transplant centers have begun to address some concerns about non-directed organ donation, the Los Angeles Times reports that the "questions surrounding anonymous donation are only going to get more complex" as transplant centers begin to accept anonymous donations for organs other than kidneys (Carey, Los Angeles Times, 10/2).