Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dutch reality tv program -- "Big Donor Show" -- a hoax

Wouldn't you know: One of the stories that lured me out of semi-retirement and back to HealthLawBlog -- the one about the Dutch tv network that was about to air a show featuring a terminally-ill patient interviewing three candidates in kidney failure to decide which one would get her kidney -- turns out to be a hoax by the network, designed to pressure government officials to reform organ-transplantation laws in the Netherlands. According to the AP (courtesy of The Washington Post), the terminally-ill patient was simply a role played by a Dutch actress (Leonie Gebbink, looking none-too-ill in her publicity shot).

It appears that organ-transplant officials the world over are a pretty conservative lot, adverse to publicity that could be seen as sensationalistic in any way, and of course there was plenty about this "show" not to like. But count this episode as one of many that illustrate the widespread feeling of frustration that "business as usual" isn't getting the job done in the organ-transplant field. The waiting-list statistics at UNOS tell a pretty grim tale:

[click to enlarge]

Historians of organ transplantation may well look back on 2007 as the year of the first big crack in the facade. I am thinking of HHS' opinion earlier this year that the prohibition against buying and selling organs (42 U.S.C. ยง 274e) would not be violated by paired exchanges of living donor kidney transplants. This is the situation when A donates a kidney to D in exchange for C's donation of a kidney to B, where A would otherwise be a living related donor to B, and C would otherwise be a living related donor to D, but for A-B and C-D incompatibility. (A variation on this theme occurs when a living related donor who is incompatible with a family member on the waiting list donates to a stranger, in exchange for which the patient on the waiting list receives some priority on the waiting list, which may substantially shorten his or her waiting time.) Every first-year Contracts student can spot the valuable consideration in these arrangements, but DOJ said the practice does not violate federal law. It can only be a matter of time before the supposed distinction between mutual promises (or the performance thereof) and the exchange of cash for a promise (or performance thereof) will crumble.

posted by Tom Mayo, 12:40 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter