From the archive, originally posted by: [ mmm ]

Contestants to vie for kidney on reality show
Dutch program, aiming to call attention to donor shortage, called tasteless
May 29, 2007

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A Dutch reality show that claims to be trying
to draw attention to a shortage of organ donors said Tuesday it would
go ahead with a program in which a terminally ill woman will choose a
contestant to receive one of her kidneys.

The program, “Big Donor Show,” has been attacked as unethical and
tasteless. One member of the Dutch parliament suggested the government
should block Friday’s broadcast.

“We know that this program is super controversial and 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,”
Laurens Drillich, chairman of the BNN network, said in a statement.

He said waiting lists in the Netherlands are more than four years long
and 200 patients die annually for lack of a donor.

The network identified the donor as “Lisa,” a 37-year-old woman with
an inoperable brain tumor. During the show, she will hear interviews
with the three candidates, their families and friends before choosing
who will get her kidney.

The show is being produced by Endemol NV, the creator of the “Big
Brother” series.

A spokeswoman for BNN said that there could be no guarantees the
donation would actually be made, “but the intention is” Lisa’s
donation would be carried out before she died.

That is because her wish to donate to a particular candidate “wouldn’t
be valid anymore after her death” under Dutch donation rules, Marieke
Saly said. If Lisa does donate one kidney while living, the other
kidney may still be awarded to someone else on a national donation
waiting list under the country’s organ allotment system.

Viewers will be able to vote for the candidate they feel is most
deserving via SMS text message, but “Lisa will determine who the happy
one is,” BNN said in a statement.

Saly could not say how much it will cost to send an SMS, but most TV
programs charge around $1.35.

Joop Atsma, a lawmaker of the ruling Christian Democrats, raised the
issue in parliament, asking the government whether the program
violated any law.

“Is it desirable that public broadcasting would go down this path, and
is there no way to send a strong signal that we reject this?” he said.

Education Minister Ronald Plasterk, addressing parliament on behalf of
the government because the health minister was ill, replied that there
were serious questions about whether the transplant would actually go
through as BNN has advertised it — but that there was no way to stop
the program from airing.

“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,” he said.

“The constitution forbids me from interfering in the content of
programs: Let there be no mistake about that, that would be

He said that there were practical barriers.

“In every transplant the tissue of the donor and the patient must
match as much as possible,” Plasterk said. “The doctors in this
program can’t make any concessions on that front.”

There also was doubt whether Lisa’s organs could be donated at all
because it might spread her cancer, he said.

“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.

Noting the shortage of donors, he said it was a good time for a debate
on the question of what incentives to donate are ethical.

He cited the example of a Dutch funeral home that is offering
discounts to the families of people who were registered as donors, and
an idea presented by the country’s Kidney Institute to give registered
donors preference on organ waiting lists.