One of Australia’s leading medical ethicists says the Federal Government’s trial program of paid leave for organ donation will need to be carefully monitored.
The radical pilot program, announced on Sunday, will see the employers of organ donors paid the minimum wage - up to $606 a week - for six weeks to help ease the financial costs involved in recovering from surgery.
Dr Leslie Cannold, a medical ethicist and senior lecturer at Monash University, will be closely monitoring the two-year trial.
She says that is important the payment is genuine compensation and not an inducement.
“The key criterion when you think about paying people to give a gift - and that’s what a donation is - is that that payment doesn’t constitute an inducement; it doesn’t make them do something they would otherwise not do,” she said.
AUDIO: Organ donor trial to be closely monitored (AM) “It looks like in this situation - because giving an organ when you’re alive is very onerous - it’s unlikely that the kind of compensation we’re talking about here would induce someone to do that who otherwise wouldn’t.”
When asked if this type of program could be open to abuse Dr Cannold said: “It’s always possible.”
“Certainly in developing countries we have seen … homeless strangers, people on benefits … wandering in and saying ‘I’m desperate to get rid of my kidney for some stranger I don’t know’ because the level of compensation is clearly set so high.
“It is an inducement, because someone is getting amounts of money that would be the equivalent of what they could earn if they were earning anything for two years.
“So it really all comes down to how you set the level.”
Around 280 Australians make a living organ donation each year. The Government hopes its scheme will boost this number.
The trial has been welcomed by the presenter of ABC’s PM program Mark Colvin, who had a kidney transplant last month.
In 1994 he contracted a rare blood disorder in Africa, and for years endured dialysis. But then a friend made the decision to donate.
“This is not, as some headlines have had it, you know, cash for kidneys.
“It’s just compensation to people who otherwise are thinking of giving, and to let them have that few weeks off without the financial worry.
“There’s more than one problem here: there’s deceased donations and live donations, and anything they can do to increase the number in either is very, very welcome.”
Mr Colvin says his donor is recovering well and has no regrets about the decision.
“It’s a hard thing to ask anybody to do, and I didn’t want to do it … unless they were very sure, and they wore me down.”