Banking on Living Kidney Donors—A New Way to Facilitate Donation without Compromising on Ethical Values

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 42 (5):537-558 (2017)
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Public surveys conducted in many countries report widespread willingness of individuals to donate a kidney while alive to a family member or close friend, yet thousands suffer and many die each year while waiting for a kidney transplant. Advocates of financial incentive programs or “regulated markets” in kidneys present the problem of the kidney shortage as one of insufficient public motivation to donate, arguing that incentives will increase the number of donors. Others believe the solutions lie—at least in part—in facilitating so-called “altruistic donation;” harnessing the willingness of relatives and friends to donate by addressing the many barriers which serve as disincentives to living donation. Strategies designed to minimize financial barriers to donation and the use of paired kidney exchange programs are increasingly enabling donation, and now, an innovative program designed to address what has been termed “chronologically incompatible donation” is being piloted at the University of California, Los Angeles, and elsewhere in the United States. In this program, a person whose kidney is not currently required for transplantation in a specific recipient may instead donate to the paired exchange program; in return, a commitment is made to the specified recipient that priority access for a living-donor transplant in a paired exchange program will be offered when or if the need arises in the future. We address here potential ethical concerns related to this form of organ “banking” from living donors, and argue that it offers significant benefits without undermining the well-established ethical principles and values currently underpinning living donation programs.



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Dominique E. Martin
Deakin University