Last year, 285 Canadians died while waiting for an organ transplant. At last count, another 4,660 are staring at the same fate, desperate for a donor to save their lives. Yet despite so many public awareness campaigns (and the odd tweet from celebrities like Justin Bieber) donation rates in Canada are essentially the same today as they were in 2006: dismal.
A new study out of Alberta is asking the inevitable—but controversial—question: is it time to start paying people for their lungs, kidneys and hearts?
It is illegal, of course, to buy and sell organs or human tissue. But if the latest research is any indication, Canadians are willing to at least explore the idea of financial incentives—whether it be cash, tax breaks, or reimbursed funeral expenses. “It’s a difficult subject to broach, but I think we could get over that,” Dr. Braden Manns, the study’s co-author, told one newspaper reporter. “With the current system, where we ask people to come forward out of the goodness of their heart, we are clearly not getting enough organs.”
The researchers surveyed 2,004 Canadians, 339 health professionals, and 269 people affected by kidney disease. Members of the public were most open to the payout plan, with 70 per cent supporting the concept for deceased donors and 45 per cent saying it’s acceptable for living donors. (Health care workers were least receptive to the idea, at just 14 per cent.)
How exactly would it work? What would be the going rate for a healthy lung? Would such a program mostly attract the unsavoury and the desperate, such as drug addicts? Those questions are for another study. But Mann is certain about one thing. “We’re not talking about buying and selling organs in a hotel room in a shady area of Calgary,” he said. “What we’re talking about is a third-party regulator that would offer compensation.”
And if that regulated market ever becomes a reality, it could prove to be a literal life saver.