Monday, September 11, 2017

Kidney exchange in Switzerland in 1999, and some early repugnant reaction

Kidney exchange is well established and growing in Europe today, but the first exchange was greeted in some quarters as a repugnant transaction.

The first kidney exchange in Europe was actually an international exchange, involving a German couple and a Swiss couple. It was conducted in Basel on May 23rd 1999, and reported in

G. Thiel, P. Vogelbach, L. Guerke, T. Gasser, K. Lehmann, T. Voegele, A. Kiss, and G. Kirste  ”Crossover renal transplantation: hurdles to be cleared!”, Transplant Proc , 2001

They report that
"The Swiss Health Insurance paid the hospital bill without hesitation. The German insurance, however, refused to pay, despite the fact that the cost (including donor nephrectomy) was lower in Basel than cadaveric transplantation alone would have been in Germany and despite huge savings for the German insurance by being released from further payments for dialysis treatment. The insurance agency argued that crossover transplantation is not allowed in Germany, and that they would not pay for an illegal procedure. …Crossover transplantation is legal in Switzerland”

Following the publication of the paper, press coverage reflected a good deal of repugnance for kidney exchange and criticized the German surgeon Prof Dr. Gunter Kirste (with whom I have discussed these matters prior to my recent talk in Geneva). Muriel Niederle pointed me to this story from Der Spiegel 12.02.2001: “[Opening the] Door to Commerce”

Here's another, from the Suddeutsche Zeitung, also in 2001, kindly supplied by Dr. Kirste, which compares kidney exchange to organ trafficking: "Organs of a Travelling Salesman"

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