ORGAN DONATION: PA Breaks New Ground with Stipend
All eyes will be on Pennsylvania as the state becomes the first to "break a long-held taboo" against offering financial rewards to organ donors, the New York Times reports. By early next year, pilot program in the state will offer a $300 stipend to families of organ donors to help offset burial expenses. The program will be monitored by a panel of medical ethicists over three years to determine if it achieves its goal of increasing organ donations. The federal government will also keep a close watch on the program, the Times reports, after suggesting that the payments may violate the National Organ Transplant Act, which forbids the sale of human organs. Yet the state feels it is not violating the law, categorizing the stipend not as a payment for organs, but "a voluntary death benefit." However, Jon Nelson of the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration, said, "The federal statute is fairly clear in prohibiting the exchange of organs for any kind of payment. The question is whether this is in violation of the statute or not. Clearly we have to look at it closely." he said. Organ procurement directors in New York state are also eyeing the program and laying the groundwork to follow Pennsylvania's lead with their own pilot.
Lots of Questions, Not Many Answers
The issue raises a "host of thorny questions," the Times reports: Will the financial incentive "induce families to lie about the medical histories of their loved ones, withholding information that could affect the health of the transplant recipient? Will the money prompt a disproportionate increase in donation among the poor, injecting further economic imbalance into a system that is already skewed in favor of the wealthy?" While the subject was long avoided, these questions are increasingly being tackled and financial incentive plans are starting to win supporters. "I think times have changed," said Dr. Charles Miller, chair of the New York task force and transplant surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center, adding, "I think the organ donor shortage has become so public and so critical that people are beginning to rethink" (Stolberg, 5/6).