By Arthur Max
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
AMSTERDAM, May 29 -- A 37-year-old woman suffering from an inoperable brain tumor wants to donate a kidney before she dies and will choose the recipient from among three contestants on Dutch national television, a TV network said Tuesday, claiming it wants to highlight a crisis in organ donations.
Asked to intervene, the Dutch government declined, saying it would be censorship to stop the broadcast, regardless of how distasteful -- and even unethical -- it might be. It is unclear whether the contestants are a medical match with the terminally ill woman, and whether the winner would be capable of receiving her kidney.
The publicly financed television network, BNN, said it intends to go ahead with the program on Friday, drawing attention to the hundreds of people who die each year for lack of a kidney transplant.
The subject of the scheduled broadcast of "The Big Donor Show" reached the floor of Parliament after a member of the governing Christian Democrats, Joop Atsma, questioned whether a public contest for a lifesaving organ would cross the boundary of merely objectionable to illegal.
"The information I have right now tells me that the program is unfitting and unethical, especially due to the competitive element, but it's up to program makers to make their choices," responded Education Minister Ronald Plasterk.
Government interference, he said, would amount to censorship.
BNN defended the program. "Some people will think it's tasteless, but we think the reality is even more shocking and tasteless: Waiting for an organ is just like playing the lottery," said network Chairman Laurens Drillich.
"The Big Donor Show" is produced by Endemol NV, which created the "Big Brother" concept in 1999 and marketed it around the world, setting off the rage of reality TV.
The network identified the donor only as Lisa and gave no other information about her. During the show, she will hear interviews with the three candidates, their families and friends before choosing who will get her kidney.
Viewers will be able to vote for a candidate via SMS text message, but the final determination will be Lisa's, BNN said.
Though the ailing woman intends to donate the kidney while still alive, she would be free to donate other organs after her death under the normal organ allotment system, said BNN spokeswoman Marieke Saly.
But there's no guarantee that Lisa's choice will receive the organ.
Plasterk said that as with any transplant, the tissues of the donor and the recipient must be compatible. "The doctors in this program can't make any concessions on that front," he said during a lively parliament debate.
"So it's very possible that in practical terms, we're not talking about anything here, because it's possible this transplant can't take place," he said.
Paul Beerkens, director of the Dutch Kidney Foundation, welcomed the sudden attention to the problem of organ donations, but called on BNN to cancel the show now that it has gained publicity.
"There are about 1,500 people waiting on the list for more than four years, so something has to be done," Beerkens told AP Television News. "But let's be clear: This is not the way."
Dutch TV producers have raised eyebrows before with controversial material. before. Two years ago, a station showing a "Big Brother" series followed one contestant's pregnancy, then aired the birth. Though the mother hoped to win the $540,000 top prize, she quit before the end of the show.
Around the same time, BNN showed footage of one of its reporters snorting cocaine and then being interviewed about the experience in a talk show format.