Canadian health experts are recommending a simple, but controversial way to encourage people to donate critically needed organs: Pay them.
Organ-transplant specialists with the University of Calgary found that paying living donors $10,000 to donate their kidneys would be more cost-efficient strategy than the current organ donation system, even if it only resulted in a 5 percent increase in the number of donors.
The findings, published in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, suggest the approach would not only save money in the long run, but greatly add to the number of available organs and help transplant patients.
"Such a program could be cost saving because of the extra number of kidney transplants and, consequently, lower dialysis costs," said . “Lianne Barnieh, M.D., who led the study. "Further, by increasing the number of people receiving a kidney transplant, this program could improve net health by increasing the quality and quantity of life for patients with end-stage renal disease."
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Kidney transplants are the best option for patients with kidney failure, but there is a shortage of available kidneys, and donation rates from both living and deceased donors have remained relatively unchanged over the last decade, Dr. Barnieh noted.
Although paying for kidney donation raises significant legal, ethical, and moral issues, the new study suggest it would be cost-effective.
According to the findings, the strategy could increase the number of kidneys for transplantation by at least 5 percent by paying living donors $10,000 — and that would result in an incremental cost savings of $340 and increase a kidney patient's lifetime significantly, compared with the current organ donation system.
If the strategy boosted the number of kidneys for transplantation by 10-20 percent that would translate into an incremental cost savings of $1,640 and $4,030, and even greater health benefits for organ recipients.
"Current trends regarding the use of financial incentives in medicine suggest that the time is ripe for new consideration of payments for living kidney donation," said Matthew Allen and Peter Reese, M.D., in editorial accompanying the study. "Reassurance about the ethical concerns, however, can come only through empirical evidence from actual experience."
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