The case for paying kidney donors


(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

There are roughly 97,000 people awaiting kidney transplants in the United States, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

So how do we encourage more donations? The majority of donations come from the deceased. Of the 16,812 donations in  2012, only 34 percent came from living people. There’s no doubt this is an area ripe for fresh ideas.

A new study suggests that paying donors would cut costs for health-care systems because it would lead to an increase in donations. With more donations, less money would be spent on dialysis treatments. It sounds like a win-win, with more lives saved and less money spent.

The authors’ findings draw from a survey that found that 54 percent of people who would not donate at present would consider donating if paid a fee of $10,000. The study presumes a 5 percent increase in kidney donations, which the authors calculate would save $340 over a patient’s lifetime. A 10 percent increase in donations would mean saving $1,640 a patient, and a 20 percent increase would translate to $4,030 saved per patient.

The numbers are appealing. But there are plenty of legal and ethical issues to consider, as well. It’s illegal to sell human organs in the United States. And we wouldn’t fully know how a system that financially rewards donors would pay off until the system is enacted.

Still it’s refreshing to see research aimed at solving big issues. You can read the full study — published in the latest edition of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology — right here.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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