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Gustav Tinghög...Society should pay deceased for organ donations

... researcher at the Department of Management and Engineering, who recently was put on the spot in the media with the proposal that society should pay for organ donations from the deceased.

Bild på Gustav Tinghög

Did you expect this media firestorm?

“No, not at all, in fact. It was a little surprising. I was first called and interviewed over the phone by a journalist from Vetenskapsradio (a Swedish national radio station) who had found our proposal somewhere. Then TT (Swedish news agency) latched on followed by several hectic days of radio, talk shows, a full mailbox, everything from interviews with the local media to international journals and a debate with the Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Göran Hägglund.”

What does your proposal on organ donation look like?

“My research colleagues Faisal Omar and Stellan Welin at the Department of Medical and Health Sciences and I developed the proposal.

We propose that a social institute should compensate the next of kin with 40 or 50,000 crowns in exchange for their approving organ donation from a deceased person. The background to this is that we have a situation where there’s no access to many organs we need. People die while waiting for a transplant. At the same time, a lot of organs go to waste because the next of kin aren’t certain whether they want to let the organs of the deceased be of further use.

There are a number of ethical aspects around the issues concerning organ donation and we three, with our background in economics and philosophy, have analysed whether economic compensation is a morally practicable path.”

And you concluded that it was. 

“Yes, based on the ethical platform that exists in caregiving and which bases itself on various questions concerning human dignity, needs, solidarity, and cost-effectiveness.”

Which reaction did the proposal receive

“Divided. Many instinctively feel repugnance and think it unpleasant to connect the human body with economic compensation. They link the proposal to a train of thought around a commercial society where nothing is sacred any longer. But media research indicated that where people could go in and vote for or against the proposal, the majority was nevertheless in favour of our proposal.”

Do you see any ethical dilemma with compensating the next of kin for the organs of the deceased?

“There’s a risk of people feeling compelled to take part for economic reasons, that it’s not a free choice. In the media discussion that followed, there was also a lot about living people donating organs, for example to the trade in organs now taking place in the Third World, where poor people sell their organs under dubious and uncontrolled circumstances. But the proposal we bring only deals with deceased donors, even if we also need a discussion on whether living donors should be compensated.”

What is your chief ethical argument for paying the next of kin of the deceased for organ donation? 

“It saves lives and relieves human suffering.”

Has this media attention been positive for you as researchers? 

“We could see it as a part of the university’s task of disseminating research results. This is also a subject that involves people, but as a researcher I don’t think getting media space is a goal in itself.”

Will you further develop your organ donation research? 

“We don’t have any concrete plans. We made our point. Now it’s up to the powers that be to convert the discussion into action. Our work, really, is only to analyse whether the arguments presented in this field have any real moral buoyancy.” 

Eva Bergstedt 2011-05-04

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Last updated: 2017-02-13