The latest argument for paid kidney donation


Apparently people receiving kidney transplants sometimes have to put up with pretty much any old dog end:

Almost 300 patients have been given kidneys previously turned down by other hospitals, with the majority not having been informed.

One in 11 kidneys transplanted from dead donors recently were used after at least three other units rejected them, official figures showed.

Doctors said a shortage of donors meant there was a need to use lower-quality “second-hand organs”. Critically ill patients are being forced to choose whether to hold out for a better organ that might never come.

Recipients were, however, not told that the organs had been turned down elsewhere. Patient leaders are calling for improvements to be made to enable patients to make informed choices. Patients are told what is wrong with the organs, but surgeons said it was irrelevant how many others had rejected them.

Kidneys have been offered on a “fast track” scheme after they had been rejected by five hospitals if the donor was brain dead, or three if the donor died after cardiac arrest since 2012.

This is not, to put it mildly, optimal. However, it is a useful illustration of the basic point about kidney transplantation. Which is that, very simply, not enough people die healthy enough to provide the kidneys needed for those who will die without a transplant. This is true whether we use an opt in system, an opt out one, even if we nationalised the cadavers of everyone in the country. We have to supplement that cadaveric supply with live donations.

At which point we'll make our now ritual point. There's only one country in the world with no shortage of kidneys for transplant. There's also only one country that allows direct compensation of live donors (under quite strict government and ethical control, of course). Iran is the only place that manages both. given that this does in fact work, does save lives, it's really something we ought to be doing ourselves. And, given that a transplant is vastly cheaper over time than continued dialysis it would save the NHS substantial sums if we did just bung a live donor £25k or so.

There really are some things that are just too important not to have markets in them.