Vote for a Kidney Transplant?

BNN, a Dutch TV station, is planning a new reality show, De Groote Donor Show, where a terminally ill woman, known as Lisa, will chose a recipient for her kidney from three donors.

The format of the programme is that Lisa will make her choice based on the contestants’ history, profile and conversation with their family and friends. It’s not stated whether she’ll be meeting the potential recipients.

Strictly speaking there isn’t a ‘vote’ as stated in the BBC article, but viewers will also be able send SMS reflecting their opinion. I suppose on the basis that at points during the show the compere will indicate that x% prefer candidate A.

There’s been quite an outcry over this in the Netherlands, and in countries where it’s been reported. If you read through the comments on the BBC site there’s a sharp divide between on opinion – with most being against.

Much of the discussion is about how they are making entertainment out of a disease for commercial gain. Which ignores that the show is being made

  • to commemorate the life of the founder of the production company Bart de Graaff who died while waiting for a kidney transplant
  • with the stated aim of raising awareness of the lamentable rate of organ donation in the Netherlands
  • with public funding, if I understand correctly the production company is at least partly state funded

But really what is the ethical question here?

  1. the donor is terminally ill so is risking nothing
  2. under Dutch law if you donate an organ while you’re alive you can chose the recipient
  3. the three potential recipients have a better chance on this show of getting a kidney in the short term than if they did nothing but stay on the list – ie: a 1/3 chance of getting their new kidney this year.
  4. all recipients have been checked by drs as suitable candidates and remain under medical supervision
  5. the unsuccessful participants are no worse off than when they started – they remain on the waiting list
  6. the donor gets to do something useful
  7. the whole controversial show gets the discussion about donating going and raises awareness (this is already happening)
  8. there is a real chance that donation rates go up and lives will be saved.

The only doubt I really have is the impact on the two unsuccessful candidates. They will inevitably be incredibly disappointed and I don’t think I want to see that.

I’m hoping the show is made with some sensitivity, showing the truth about the issue of organ donation, I’m hoping that the awareness raised leads to some changes in the process to become a donor here. I’m hoping more people sign up to be a donor.

I don’t mind if there’s some humour in it, or if there’s a cynical edge, but I really hope it’s not the circus the naysayers are portraying it as.

[disclaimer: I am registered as a donor, so that on my death any organs that are useful can be used by someone else. I don’t think I would donate a kidney while I was still alive except perhaps to a close family member]


2 thoughts on “Vote for a Kidney Transplant?

  1. Now known to be a furphy, but anyway…

    “I’m hoping the show is made with some sensitivity…” Ahem.

    It comes back to “[m]uch of the discussion is about how they are making entertainment out of a disease for commercial gain.” Yep, in spite of the fact that the production company is partially publicly funded. Those involved with the company are trying, in their modest way, to make a living. I’m not impressed by their stated aims. Who benefits? That is, whose careers benefit? Who benefits financially? That’s where the motives are. (Those considerations still apply, in fact, to the actual event. Have organ donor registrations increased? I don’t know, but some careers have been enhanced.)

    How do you select the three “contestants”?

    Three people with a life-threatening disease, carefully selected by the producers for their audience impact one way or another, get to play for a kidney. It’s like Survivor, or Big Brother, only better.

    A law that lets you select the recipient of your post-mortem bits, is nothing short of idiotic. The problems inherent in such an approach are drawn large in this fantasy program. It’s a brand new way to play games with other people’s lives. It’s a brand-new way to play God.

    Organ transplants are fraught with moral difficulty at the best of times. We have no right to other people’s organs. It’s only surgical infrastructure that ranges from elaborate to extraordinarily elaborate that enables the process. That availability creates a well-funded demand, supplied increasingly from unwilling donors in China and the sub-continent.

    If a rigorous separation is maintained between donors and recipients, with mutual anonymity, some of the problems in otherwise fastidious societies may be circumvented. But how do you stop organ harvesting? Or is it morally acceptable to transplant the organs of a prisoner whose legal execution has been scheduled according to market demand?

  2. And how do you encourage donation? which is what this was all about –
    I agree there’s no “right” to an organ, I also think that we have translated a hope of medical cure, into an expectation, into a right.

    Somewhere along the way we forgot that people get sick and die. A colleague reminded me of this today, I was wishing him well for his holiday and said I hoped his Grandmother was feeling better and stronger for his visit. He smiled and said “I think the time for that is passed, but this is part of the cycle, part of life”. I think we’re losing that acceptance.

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