Friday, June 26, 1998 Published at 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Experts call for debate on kidney sales
A patient on dialysis, but donor shortages cause transplant delays
People should be allowed to sell their kidneys because of a worldwide shortage of donors, medical ethics experts argue in this week's Lancet.
Experts from the International Forum for Transplant Ethics say that the ban on kidney sales should be reversed or at least open to debate.
They say the shortage in kidney donors is so serious that people should be encouraged to overcome their horror at organ sales.
They write: "The well-known shortage of kidneys for transplantation causes much suffering and death. If we are to deny treatment to the suffering and dying, we need better reasons than our own feelings of disgust."
In 1990, two doctors in Britain were barred from operating after being implicated in kidney sales. They were found to have been paying poor Turkish men to donate a kidney to a rich patient.
The case prompted a ban on kidney sales. However, the ethics experts - who include Professor Ian Kennedy, the man appointed to chair the Bristol heart baby inquiry - say that exploitation can be reduced by ensuring that sales are heavily regulated.
They say that people should be allowed to decide if they want to sell their organs and that organ selling need not be exploitative if the trade is controlled.
They suggest, for example, that independent trusts could be established to set charges for selling kidneys and make sure that high standards were adhered to.
"If the rich are free to engage in dangerous sports for pleasure, or dangerous jobs for high pay, it is difficult to see why the poor who take the lesser risk of kidney selling for greater rewards, perhaps saving relatives' lives, or extricating themselves from poverty and debt, should be thought so misguided as to need saving from themselves," they say.
Kidney sales have been banned in countries around the world because of concerns about exploitation of the poor.