New Web site for organ donation: blessing or problem?

According to a July 21, 2005, article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Canadian Trent Fenwick agreed to donate a kidney to a west suburban man he met only the week before. The operation was scheduled at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Jim Ritter, writing for the Sun-Times, stated, “They were introduced through a controversial Web site called that matches transplant patients with living donors such as Fenwick. Patients hoping to attract donors tell their personal stories on the Web site, for a fee. A 30-day posting costs $295; a six-month posting costs $582. The site has helped arrange 11 transplants since October, and about 20 more transplants are scheduled.”

But the best of intentions can create unexpected problems. The article noted that living donors who donate a kidney or parts of a liver or other organs normally recover completely, but there’s always a small risk of infection, bleeding or other complication. Donors are not paid, as the selling of organs is illegal.

The article said: “A National Kidney Foundation survey found that nearly one in four Americans would likely consider donating an organ to help save the life of a stranger. So it’s perhaps not surprising that more than 2,200 people have registered with MatchingDonors as potential donors.”

But many doctors and transplant organizations are worried about the Web site. Critics fear that it could compromise waiting lists, lead to under-the-table selling of organs, and discriminate against patients who can’t afford the fees or don’t generate as much sympathy as some other cases.

“Nearly 90,000 people are on the national waiting list,” said the Sun-Times. “On average, 18 patients die every day while waiting. United Network for Organ Sharing, which administers the list, says MatchingDonors ‘subverts the equitable allocation of organs for transplantation.’ The Kidney Foundation opposes the practice, saying such sites ‘may commercialize the donation process.’”

What do the hospitals have to say about the new Web site? “University of Chicago and Rush University Medical Center are among the hospitals that say they probably would not do a MatchingDonors transplant,” said the Sun-Times. “‘Most of the people I’ve talked to have said this is not appropriate,’ said U. of C. transplant surgeon Dr. Richard Thistlewaite. But MatchingDonor co-founder Dr. Jeremiah Lowney said at least 20 hospitals are willing to do transplants. ‘We have changed a lot of hearts and minds,’ he said.”

The Fenwick transplant was the second Northwestern has done on a MatchingDonor couple. It was approved by two hospital ethics committees. Each case is judged on an individual basis, a hospital spokesman said. Dr. Lowney said that no one does background checks on patients or donors.

For those who find themselves in desperate straits, this is one more possibility to get help—and another source of contention for some medical ethicists.

From the August 18-23, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!