- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The American Medical Association yesterday considered supporting the sale of human organs.
The group's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs debated a resolution urging the AMA to begin studying what effect financial incentives would have on organ donations a practice long condemned by ethicists, churches and the law.
Such financial incentives are illegal, having been banned by Congress in 1984. As a result, people needing organ transplants must rely strictly on volunteers.
However, only 25 percent of the 78,000 organs needed for transplants will be available in time to save lives, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit agency appointed by the government to oversee the nation's organ-donor network.
Fifteen persons waiting for organ transplants die each day, the agency says. Most donation decisions must be made by families of people who die unexpectedly, and most families in those situations decline to offer up their deceased relatives for donations.
"We have a nationwide crisis and altruism doesn't seem to be hacking it right now," said Dr. Frank Riddick Jr., chairman of the judicial affairs council.
Dr. Riddick's council was considering urging the AMA to begin the studies of the effects of commercialization; it was to make its recommendation to the full AMA today. The AMA will decide later this week if it will adopt the council's recommendation.
The council pointed out that blood and reproductive material could be sold legally.
"There seems to be no compelling reason why viable solid organs should be treated differently from less complex tissues on moral grounds," the council's report says. "Moreover, donation itself implies a property right in organs."
If the AMA does agree to study commercialization, Congress would have to change current law to permit a study. One such program passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1999, which would have the state pay $300 toward the funeral of every donor, has never been implemented because of the federal ban.
When Congress enacted the ban, most people in the organ donor field found financial incentives unethical and abhorrent. Only two professionals spoke out in favor of payments, including a defrocked doctor who shocked the medical community by going into business as a for-profit kidney broker.
Many in the organ-donation field oppose financial incentives.
"Most donor families we talked to are quite offended at the thought that financial incentives would have made a difference," said Phyllis Weber, executive director of the California Transplant Donor Network, which collects about 700 organs a year in northern California.
"In fact, financial incentives could backfire," Miss Weber said.
The United Network, too, remains skeptical of commercializing trade in human organs. "There's a thought that to offer financial incentives will open up a Pandora's box," said agency spokesman Joel Newman.
A congressional bill introduced in May, dubbed the Gift of Life Tax Credit Act, would allow a donor family a $10,000 tax credit in exchange for donated organs.

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