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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 11:01 GMT
Doctors debate paid organ donors
Transplant kidney
Human kidneys are a scarce resource
The NHS should be allowed to buy organs from live donors to use in transplant operations, an ethics conference will be told today.

Senior doctors are suggesting that such a scheme, if properly run, could ease the huge shortfall in organ supplies.

Professor John Harris, from Manchester University, suggests that people should get the right to sell a kidney, part of their liver, or bone marrow.

The British Medical Association, which hosts the debate, remains opposed.

At the end of March, more than 6,000 people were on the waiting list for an organ transplant, and during the previous 12 months, more than 400 had died waiting for such an operation.

The NHS would purchase live organs and tissues just as it does other goods such as dialysis machines or drugs
Professor John Harris, University of Manchester
In the UK, live donors are a key source of kidneys, often involving the sacrifice of an organ by a healthy relative with no money changing hands.

While paying for a transplant organ is illegal in almost every country in the world, there is a thriving black market in organs, often from the less developed world to western countries, leading to claims that the poor are being exploited.

The human body has two kidneys, and it is possible to live a normal life with only one - although it places the patient in far more serious difficulties should their only kidney begin to fail.

NHS budget

However, Professor Harris, a bioethics expert, has long argued that an "ethical market" in organs is possible.

The BMA is against payment for organs and is not planning to change its policy
Dr Michael Wilks, BMA
In a controversial editorial in the British Medical Journal last year, he said: "The NHS would purchase live organs and tissues just as it does other goods such as dialysis machines or drugs.

"It could then make them available as needed on the basis of urgency or some other fair principle of distribution at no cost to the recipient."

He said that such sales should not be subject to tax - and people on benefits should not lose them if they make some money by selling their body tissues.

Let the market decide. Controlled, open, ethical and fair are the buzz words here
Roger, England

"Since there is no direct purchasing rich people cannot prey upon poor people in our scheme - all stand an equal chance of benefiting."


However, despite support from some senior transplant surgeons, there is wide opposition within the medical community, which claims it would exploit those who are short of money.

The BMA maintains that it does not agree with the concept.

Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of its Ethics Committee, said: "The BMA is against payment for organs and is not planning to change its policy.

"We are holding a conference today where many issues will be debated, one of them is organ donation.

"There are doctors who support the idea of payment for live donors and we have no problem with the issue being debated.

"However the BMA has no plans to change its policy on this matter."

Potential organ donors targeted
28 Oct 03  |  Bristol/Somerset
Call for organ transplant debate
11 Jul 03  |  Scotland

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