Chicago Tribune – What’s a kidney worth?

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune ran this editorial “What’s a kidney worth?”. To address the issues raised in this piece, we have a guest blog from Kim McCullough, Manager of Public Relations for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network to provide expert insight. If you choose to write a Letter to the Editor in response to the editorial, we encourage you to keep some of the following points in mind. Thanks, -Scott

By: Kim McCullough, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network
A Chicago Tribune editorial on Sunday called to task the “failure of imagination” in implementing new approaches to curbing the shortage of organs available for transplant, again bringing up the idea of offering financial incentives to donate.

Financial incentives are often argued as a simple answer to increasing donation. It’s possible the concept could have some impact if ever implemented. But there’s no way it could be the single solution to solving the organ shortage. Meanwhile, it makes for great editorials and academic policy debates because no one knows what impact it would make and continues arguing opinion on one side or the other. The problem is when the debate engages people in rhetorical discussion instead of motivating them to take the obvious action to personally help solve the problem: Register as a donor.

Arguments for financial incentives often present increased consent as the single way to increase donation. It’s critical, but a few other factors are just as crucial—for example, that potential donors at the time of death are consistently identified and referred for evaluation for donation. In addition, keep in mind that most people already consent to donate. Families and individuals currently consent about 60% of the time, and that percentage will only grow as millions of Illinoisans continue registering their consent to donate in the state’s new donor registry.

Given the passion of opinions for and against financial incentives, it seems probable that for as many families to which an incentive would appeal, others would be turned off by the idea or would continue to say “no,” payment or no payment. That’s another reason that Illinois’ new registry was established, so that an individual’s consent decision will be honored at the time of death and the final “yes” or “no” is not placed on family members.

The Trib asked readers to weigh in: “Should the U.S. legalize the sale of body organs?” A more direct question to gauge public opinion on financial incentives and the intended impact is: “If you said ‘no’ to being an organ donor or allowing a family member to become a donor, would a financial incentive change your mind?”

But the best question of all: “If you care enough to weigh in on saving more lives through donation, are you registered as a donor and have you encouraged others to do the same?”
Registering is often overlooked when editorial writers examine issues of increasing consent for donation. Perhaps because it’s a given and there’s little to debate: After all, our poll last fall showed 90% of Illinoisan believe registering is the right thing to do.

But think about it. If everyone re-registered in the state’s new registry, there would be consent for donation every time someone 18 and older (the age of consent to join the registry) passed away and was medically eligible to donate. There’d be no reason to argue ways to increase consent to saving the lives of the 4,700 patients in Illinois currently waiting for an organ donor.

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