Kidney News You Won’t Believe

Ever since this first post on organ transplants just over a year ago followed by our subsequent New York Times column on the subject, we have received many, many tips about interesting, strange, provocative, and even useful incentives to encourage more organ donation. But nothing comes close to the latest one, which was sent in by at least 8 or 10 readers (thanks to all of you): a Dutch reality TV program, The Big Donor Show, in which three contestants compete to receive a kidney from a terminally ill donor.

As you can imagine, there is pushback on all fronts, including the argument that the show’s setup doesn’t remotely reflect the reality of organ donation and transplantation. But to my mind, that is missing the point entirely. No matter how craven the producers’ motives may be — I imagine it will glean high ratings if the authorities don’t manage to pull it off the air — and no matter how poorly the show reflects reality, the very fact that this issue has reached the point of warranting a reality show suggests that the status quo is badly outmoded, and change needs to be made.

Sally Satel, who received a kidney from Virginia Postrel, writes here in grudging favor of the show.


I think it is sad that providing organs is controlled by the government monopoly. If selling your organs was legal there might be less deaths and it would be a lot easier for the relatives of the dead to pay for the funerals.


I gave a kidney, some years ago (I'm 59 and basically healthy, except for too much fat, no gall bladder and colestherol in the liver, a few things more not worth mention - in summary, nothing to worry (much) abot... for now.

So I ask: what's so special about doning certain organs?...

I certainly would not donate my heart or brain to be taken from me when I'm alive, but... wouln't any of us desire to ease the pain and suffering of a friend or relative at the cost of some risk and a certain, but bearable disconfort?...

I'm almost sure that most of us would dare (or then I'm just plain naive...).

Paul Hoffman

The conclusion that "the very fact that this issue has reached the point of warranting a reality show suggests that the status quo is badly outmoded, and change needs to be made" is demonstrably flawed. If you look at the premise of the majority of "reality shows", you will see that their premises are not based on an outmoded status quo. Surviving in groups is not outmoded, being a second- or third-tier celebrity is not outmoded, and so on.

The current mechanims for organ donation are not "badly outmoded", they are simply insufficient for the demand. One likely reason is that as organ donation becomes less risky, the number of potential recipients goes up greatly (instead of them simply dying or giving up hope). Another likely reason is that doctors may now assign more people to the potential recipient category than they would have earlier because the doctors feel more hopeful with such an assignment than they did earlier.



Nobody says what simon really does