Kidneys for cash

By Laura Mize • Published: January 14th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For a person who needs a new kidney, dialysis is a lifeline.

This procedure involves regularly pumping blood out of the body and through a machine that removes waste. The blood is then pumped back into the body. It’s a time-consuming process, and problems can arise. A port created in a blood vessel to allow for blood flow in and out can become infected or close. On top of these issues, lifetime dialysis is expensive.

These are a few reasons kidney donation is so important. But, the list of people who need a kidney is long compared with the number of donated kidneys available each year.

Researchers from Canada recently revisited an idea that’s been proposed before but never adopted: paying people to donate a kidney while they’re alive. Humans have two kidneys and can function without one. Some people choose to donate out of generosity or concern for a loved one. How many more people would do so if they were paid $10,000?

About half of people surveyed said they would be OK with the practice. Even more said they would consider live donation to help a friend or family member in exchange for 10 grand.

While these results can’t predict how many new donors a payment system might entice, they do seem to indicate it’s a popular idea. Given this, the researchers worked out a few possible scenarios. They estimated the impact a $10,000 payment system could have on health care spending if it increased available kidneys by 5 percent.

It worked out to 325 U.S. dollars in savings per patient. The amount saved would grow significantly if donated kidneys increased by 10 or 20 percent. Essentially, the reduction in people on dialysis would save more money than it would cost to pay donors.

There is much to consider when it comes to paying living kidney donors, but experts say it’s an idea worth discussing. Lives are at stake.