Sue Rabbitt Roff, a researcher at Dundee University, has caused a storm in medical circles by suggesting that a legal trade in human kidneys should be established.
In a Personal View article, published on the British Medical Journal website, she suggested a move towards a system of paid provision for live donors’ kidneys, with those offering their organs to be given £28,000.
Dr Roff, a senior research fellow at Dundee’s department of medical sociology, said that a regulated payment system run under “strict rules” would not resemble the illegal markets that exist in many countries.
It’s one way to pay off the student loans, I suppose. But how long would it take for those desperate for money to put themselves at risk for the equivalent of a year’s salary or more? And, while humans can survive with a single kidney, the risk to many types of infection increases, potentially storing up health problems for later in life.
It is currently illegal to pay for organs for transplantation under the Human Tissue Act. The act also makes it a criminal offence to attempt to buy or sell organs for transplant.
A spokeswoman for the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) told the BBC that the organisation must, “continue to ensure that living organ donation is something people enter into freely and without financial reward”.
And Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association’s medical ethics committee, argued that organ donation should be “altruistic and based on clinical need” and that there was a “small but significant” health risk to living kidney donation.
There are currently 725 people in Scotland waiting for a new kidney but the number coming up for transplant has plateaued at around 200 in recent years. And in the UK as a whole, three people a day die while on the kidney transplant list.
So there is clearly a need to increase the number of kidneys available for those requiring transplants. But to suggest that a trade be established in human body parts is a somewhat gruesome solution.
It is perhaps not surprising that the idea has been raised. The solution to so many issues seems to be to throw money at the problem. This is a step too far for me, though. There is, quite simply, something intrinsically wrong in selling human body parts.
I hope that the responses from most medical sources are strong enough to ensure that this idea goes no further.