Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kidney donors (and advertising)

Several recent stories about kidney transplants are worth noting, not least for their focus on donors: how to find one, how their gifts are effectively used, and how they are and might be compensated. (This leads to some thoughts on the various roles that advertising, through personal communication, news stories, and commercially, might play at various points).

At Salon, Whaddaya have to do to get a kidney around here? Frances Kissling writes about the gratifying responses she received when she carefully let her friends know that she was in need of a kidney transplant. She writes:
"I think I instinctively knew what I had to do. I'd spent a lot of my time raising money, and I had that Bible verse "ask and you shall receive" burned into my consciousness. I decided to compose an e-mail about my need. In it, I shared my sense of the adventure before me and asked if anyone would like to give me one of their kidneys. I noted: "To be dependent on the generosity of others is a new experience for me and I am thinking a lot about what it means to share one's body with another person. Also trying to figure out how I ask for a gift that I really want without expectation or making friends and colleagues uncomfortable." "

About the ongoing discussion of providing compensation for donors, whe writes
"Even without incentives, no group of do-gooders is treated with more suspicion by the medical community than living organ donors. Even a free glass of orange juice or an unnecessary lollipop given to a donor is interpreted by some leaders in the field as a "bribe" or a crime. Appropriate concern for the international organ trafficking problem (WHO estimates that the annual total of internationally trafficked kidneys is about 6,000) has so distorted the concept of altruism and eroded the principle of mutual respect that potential kidney donors are denied the basic safety net that a just and giving society should provide people who offer to risk their own lives to save the lives of others. And let's be clear. The best way to stop first-world people with money from exploiting poor people by bargain basement organ trafficking is to procure more organs from well-informed, healthy and autonomous people in the first world."

Among her bottom lines: if you need a kidney, let your friends know.

From Australia, Kidney Exchange is making continued progress: the news story Chain of goodwill saves lives reports that Western Australia's Paired Kidney Exchange Program has performed an altruistic donor chain, involving three transplants. As the technology progresses for effectively using altruistic kidney donations to enable multiple transplants, the benefits of such donations increase. And as the news of this spreads, it is likely more altruists will be moved to donate.

This brings me to the subject of advertising.

Apart from letting their friends and acquaintances know (and sometimes in preference to doing that) people in need of transplants sometimes advertise (see e.g. the story Ads, Billboard Plead for Organ Donations, or the site

In a column in the Los Angeles Times about how all sorts of transactions (particularly on the web) are funded these days by advertising, Joshua Gans is interviewed on the subject of repugnant transactions
"According to Joshua Gans, an economist at Melbourne Business School in Australia..., there's a social norm against repugnant transactions, such as paying for a kidney. In the last few years, too many transactions have become repugnant. "And if you need to make money to pay for the content ... and you can't get the consumers to pay, what do you do? Sell a related product, advertising," Gans told me. The good news is that at this point, I'm pretty sure The Times' sales staff will sell space on their kidneys."

Could someone actually finance a kidney donation by advertising? Jeff Ely at Cheap Talk offers this suggestion under the heading Organs for Money:
" I wonder if the following transaction would be considered taboo. I need a kidney, you have a spare. By law, I cannot pay you for the kidney and you would not give it to me without compensation. So instead I buy five minutes of primetime network TV air, say in the middle of American Idol, to broadcast my documentary about you telling the world what a heroic human being you are, how you saved my life and where to send you donations."

(In the nothing is too bizarre to contemplate category, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution points to a laptop company that offers to help defray the cost of well attended funerals in return for being allowed to advertise at them: Advertising markets in everything)

HT to Lauren Merrill for the Salon story.

1 comment:

Alex F said...

The remarkable laptop-ads-at-your-funeral story was apparently an April Fool's stunt.