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Paying Kidney Donors Could Save Money And Lives

Sarah Allen |
October 28, 2013 | 11:49 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

How much would you pay for a kidney?

University College Hospital in London (Tagishsimon / Wikimedia Commons)
University College Hospital in London (Tagishsimon / Wikimedia Commons)

According to a new study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, a price of $10,000 per kidney would be enough to increase the number of donors by an estimated 5 percent or more.

The National Kidney Foundation reported that 96,645 people are currently awaiting kidney transplants in the United States. The Foundation also noted that 4,903 died last year while waiting for a kidney transplant.

Researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada created a model to determine the impact of a program that paid donors for their kidneys. Because the vast majority of kidneys come from deceased donors, the hypothetical program would target a group of people who rarely donate kidneys: the living. The study concluded that quality of life would improve and that such a program would also be more cost-effective than the current system --- it would save $340 per recipient.

Although researches said the estimate of a 5 percent increase in transplants was “conservative,” the study did not use data to evaluate how donors might react. Time Magazine noted that if the actual increase exceeds 5 percent, the health care system could save thousands of dollars on a single patient. Patients typically must wait two to three years to receive a kidney transplant, and as a result, the cost of dialysis is often greater than $10,000.

Researcher Lianne Barnieh said in a press release, "Further, by increasing the number of people receiving a kidney transplant, this program could improve net health by increasing the quality and quantity of life for patients with end-stage renal disease."

The study also included a survey that found that 70 percent of the Canadian public supported monetary payment in exchange for a kidney donation. However, only 25 percent of physicians agreed.

The survey results also revealed that 50 percent of those who described themselves as reluctant to donate an organ would change their minds if monetary compensation was available.

Although the debate over payment for organ donations remains ethically controversial, the study’s findings have received serious consideration. In the same issue of the Clinical Journal of American Nephrology in which the article was published, a separate editorial voiced support for payment in exchange for organ donations.

Dr. Peter Reese, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, and Matthew B. Allen, also from the University of Pennsylvania said, "Current trends regarding the use of financial incentives in medicine suggest that the time is ripe for new consideration of payments for living kidney donation."

Reach Staff Reporter Sarah Allen here.



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