In a radical break with accepted methods of organ donation, a Colorado executive has found a new kidney after linking up with a living American donor on a private website in Boston. Bob Hickey found his donor, Rob Smitty, of Tennessee, through matchingdonors.com, an internet site which charges US$295 a month to post patients' stories. The hospital where the procedure was done asked both men to sign statements that the donor was not profiting from the procedure, as US law forbids selling body parts. Hickey says that he is not paying for the kidney, but will reimburse Smitty about US$4,500 for his expenses.
The private agency which manages American organ supplies, the United Network for Organ Sharing, has criticised the website for undermining a system which promises a fair distribution of organs based on who is sickest and who has waited the longest for a transplant. Living organ donors are normally relatives or close friends, but the website brings together total strangers, short circuiting the long waiting list.
Mr Hickey had been on dialysis for five years and had nearly given up hope of finding a donor. Then he discovered the website. In response to his internet plea, he quickly received 500 serious queries, including 50 who matched his body and blood type.
According to the Boston Globe, "MatchingDonors.com touches on two of the most sensitive issues in the field of organ transplantation: the use of money to encourage organ donations and the wisdom of encouraging healthy people to risk their health to donate organs to people other than immediate family members. Medical ethicists fear that encouraging people to donate organs to strangers increases the risk of payoffs for organs or the exploitation of donors who are not psychologically stable."
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