Should We Compensate Organ Donors?

Recently, I came across an article by Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, from the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU School of Medicine who brought up the question, “Should organ donors be compensated for their donation?” This question is not inquiring about the ethical dilemma of selling organs for monetary gain, but rather, “Should organ donors be compensated for their expenses?” and, “Should insurers provide continuing health benefits when a person voluntarily becomes an organ donor?”

Organs donations are a rare gift that some individuals in need are unfortunately unable to obtain. When a medical team receives the news of an organ match, everyone is excited to proceed to the next step as efficiently as possible in order to save a life, but what about the person who provides the donation? What changes are foreseen in their life? As a student, I am quick to read the latest research articles and data pertaining to the surgical procedure, but not often do I stop and think about the non-medical complications. What are the financial burdens that the donor will have to overcome? How much time will be lost from work due to travel or hospital stay? Will this cause tension between their employer and increase risk of unemployment? What complications can this have on the donor’s future life or disability insurance? These conversations are just as important to the donor as the surgical complications that we first research about.

To add additional perspective to this conversation, donating an organ costs $5000 on average and can reach $20,000. Currently there is only one US grant from the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) that covers live donor travel costs which is used by less than 10% of US live donors annually. Given the altruistic act of the donor, if it truly was an altruistic act on their part, should any unforeseen financial cost be covered? And if so, by who? The insurance company? The recipient?

As future healthcare providers, we need to consider not only the medical aspect of health but also the difficult conversations that may and will arise as we continue on this journey. The more we consider the potential “tough talks,” the better we can treat the whole person.

References

1. Caplan AL. Should We Pay Organ Donor Heroes? Medscape. August 28, 2017.