Doctors call for end of kidney sale ban

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THE BAN on allowing people to sell their kidneys for transplant should be lifted to overcome the world-wide shortage of organ donors, an international group of experts in medical ethics has concluded.

Objections to the sale of the organs are based on "feelings of outrage and disgust" rather than on rational assessment of the risks and benefits.

Banning the sale of the organs restricts their supply, causing much suffering and death, and denies financial benefits to people who are often poor and in desperate need, they say.

The International Forum for Transplant Ethics has re-opened one of the most controversial issues in medicine by suggesting that a market in human organs could be established. They say they are not arguing for an unfettered market, but believe the trade could be carefully regulated by independent trusts, which would fix charges and handle accounts.

In 1990 the UK General Medical Council struck off two doctors involved in what became known as the "kidneys-for-sale" scandal. Impoverished young Turkish men had been enticed to Britain and paid around pounds 2,000 for their kidneys, although they claimed they did not know what was happening to them. The case, one of the most notorious to be heard by the GMC, exposed what many saw as the seamier side of medicine.

That view has now been dismissed by the eight member forum, who argue that feelings of repugnance at the idea of selling organs "cannot justify removing the only hope of the destitute and dying".

The group includes Ian Kennedy, professor of medical ethics at University College, London, recently announced as chairman of the forthcoming public inquiry into the Bristol heart surgery disaster, and Professor Raymond Hoffenburg, former president of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Writing in the Lancet, they say the commonest objection to kidney selling - a person can live a normal life with only one functioning kidney - is that it exploits the poor who need protection from the greedy rich.

Against this, they say the operation is low risk and the lot of people whose only means of raising money is to sell their kidneys cannot be improved by removing "the best option that poverty has left".

Potential vendors too uneducated or ignorant to understand what is involved should be counselled.