Saturday, September 25, 2010

Organ markets, transplant tourism, and compensation of donors in Asia

The Australian ABC News carries a story about transplant tourism that seems to focus on China (but which I hope is a little dated): Australian organ tourists drive sinister trade
One of the disturbing (hearsay) quotes: ""I know of one patient who was heading for a country overseas; told the unit that they would be unable to come in for dialysis tomorrow because they were shooting her donor tomorrow."

The story quotes one Australian surgeon as suggesting that relying primarily on deceased donors would be preferable, since there is less room for an illegal market to creep in (maybe the reporter didn't read him the quote above).  Australia, like everywhere else in the world, doesn't have enough deceased donor kidneys to meet demand, and live donor transplantation continues to outperform deceased donor transplantation (hence kidney exchange). Stories like this make me worry about babies being thrown out with bathwater...

A recent paper discusses the organ trade in Asia, and policies regarding legal compensation of donors: , Living Organ Transplantation Policy Transition in Asia: towards Adaptive Policy Changes by Alex He Jingwei, Allen Lai Yu-Hung, and Leong Ching, in Global Health Governance, Volume III, Issue 2: Spring 2010.
The authors are all Ph.D. candidates at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

"This paper surveys trends in ten Asian economies and highlights the gradual loosening of restrictions on donor eligibility and compensation. We suggest that one explanation for those cases which have remained unchanged in their transplantation policies is the existence of a thriving trans-boundary organ trade, which although
ethically indefensible, is tolerated by pragmatic policymakers."
"...Saudi Arabia has changed its policy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a law passed in Saudi Arabia in October 2007 envisages that the government pays a monetary “reward” of 50,000 riyals (US$13,300) and other benefits, including life-time medical care, for unrelated organ donors in a system regulated at the national level. The law’s supporters said it would stop Saudi citizens from travelling to China, Egypt, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other countries to receive organ transplants.30 The effect of this new policy is immediate—Saudi Arabia quadrupled its rates of living kidney donation within a short period, ranking no. 1 today.31
"Singapore has faced a persistent shortage of organs for donations too. As of October 31, 2008, there were about 520 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. The average waiting time is nine years. Religious customs, cultural norms, and a fear of transplant operations have been cited as reasons for the donor shortage. Given its small population, and level of affluence, it is perhaps natural that this country will eventually find some ways to regulate this de facto market. The most recent of these has been an amendment to the “Human Organ Transplant Act” (HOTA) to allow compensation to donors. At the same time, it has also increased the penalty for organ trading, signaling that a complete price mechanism is unacceptable.
"HOTA originally prohibits the giving or acceptance of organs under a “contract of arrangement” which precludes organ trading. In November 2008, the Ministry of Health (MOH) proposed that paired matching for exchange of organs be allowed in Singapore to increase the chances of improved transplant outcomes and to save more lives. Under this arrangement, patients can essentially switch donors. The MOH sees this as creating matches that may otherwise have not occurred, as well as others that are medically compatible for improved clinical outcomes.
"A more radical change is to allow compensation to be made to living donors in Singapore. At the time of writing, this amendment has already been passed in the parliament, and the MOH is working out compensation levels. Under the law, provision is made for direct costs incurred as a result of the donation, as well as indirect losses such as lost earnings and future expenses due to the donation. In order to control the financial incentive, all the reimbursements will be credited to the donors’ medical savings accounts instead of cash transfers."

HT: Joshua Gans and Sally Satel

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