Most Americans Would Donate a Kidney for Cash

kidney
A survey finds most Americans would happily give up a kidney for $50,000. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

For more than 20 years, it’s been illegal to give or accept money for organ donation in the U.S. The law was intended to prevent wealthy patients from having a better chance of receiving donor organs than their less affluent counterparts. As a result, many experts say there is now a shortage of most organs. Case in point: kidneys, the only full organ that can be transplanted from someone who is still alive and not significantly impact the donor’s long-term health. Deaths from end-stage renal disease can easily be prevented with a donor, but the line for one is very long.

That’s why a group of researchers argues that it may be worth changing the law. The paper, published March 24 in JAMA Surgery suggests most people are willing to put a price tag on such a donation. The survey involved 1,011 respondents (427 males and 584 females). A little more than 40 percent of participants were between the ages of 45 and 64. Participants were asked if they would be willing to donate a kidney first without and then with financial compensation. Researchers put a hypothetical $50,000 price tag on the organ.

The researchers found 68 percent of survey participants would be willing to give up one of their bean-shaped organs for free to anyone under urgent circumstances, while 23 percent said yes but only for select recipients. Only 9 percent were unwilling to donate.

People were enthusiastic about becoming donors when money was added into the equation. More than half (59 percent) of respondents said $50,000 would make them more likely to donate, while 32 percent said money didn’t change their opinion (including those already willing to donate without compensation) and 9 percent said money would negatively impact their desire to donate.

End-stage renal disease is the cause of death for thousands of people and these losses could easily be prevented with a shiny new kidney—if only there were more healthy people willing to give one up. In the U.S., kidneys are in high demand. Data from the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network suggest living kidney donations have decreased by 14 percent in between 2004 and 2013.

Nearly every human is born with two kidneys and most healthy people can maintain full function with only one. Kidneys are essential for life: They help maintain a body’s PH balance, eliminate waste and help produce hormones that regulate blood cells and blood pressure, keep bones strong and produce red blood cells.

“More Americans believe that living kidney and marrow donors, who currently may not be paid by law, are more deserving of compensation than donors of ova, sperm, and blood, who currently can be paid,” the researchers write in their paper. “Because too many U.S. patients are dying owing to the inadequate kidney supply, and because paying living kidney donors could increase the number of kidneys, we conclude that this option must be seriously considered.”