By Katrina A. Bramstedt
In the US, thousands of patients are waiting for a kidney or liver transplant. Sometimes, they get so desperate, they contemplate traveling to a foreign country to buy an organ. In their desperation, patients often don’t think about the pitfalls and ethical problems of organ tourism, and there are many. Some organs are known to come from prisoners who did not give informed consent. Some organs are taken from women who are forced by their husbands to “donate” a kidney or liver tissue to pay a debt. Is this the setting for ethical medical care?
Other problems with organ tourism are issues such as the lack of medical records, or records which are written in a foreign language and unhelpful upon return to the US. Organs are sometimes also contaminated with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis. And what about these medical complications? Who pays for the treatment? What if there is malpractice? Can the patient obtain any recourse? The complexity of organ tourism is immense, clinically, ethically, and legally. So is there another option for patients who need a kidney or liver transplant?
Enter the Good Samaritan. These are people, right here in USA, who are ready and willing to give an organ to a stranger. They have no goal other than “to help”. Their organ gifts are “no strings attached” and often, they never even meet the person who receives their organ. For the Good Samaritan, all that matters is that they have something extra and they want to share it with someone who needs it. In the new book, The Organ Donor Experience: Good Samaritans and the Meaning of Altruism, 22 donors were extensively studied to learn their personalities and motivations for organ donation. In general, these givers are normal, everyday folk, of average means, with a genuine desire to serve their community. Often, they have a lengthy history of volunteerism and their parents did as well. They originate from all fields, law, law enforcement, health care, education, you-name-it. A Good Samaritan could be your neighbor down the street, the clerk at the grocery store, a local taxi driver, or even your bank teller. These people want to give, and with medical, surgical, and psychosocial screenings, they can be lifesavers.
- Bramstedt K.A., Xu J. Checklist: passport, plane ticket, organ transplant. Am J Transplant. 2007 Jul;7(7):1698-701.
- Bramstedt K.A. Ethical minefields in medical tourism. Sonoma Medicine 2011.
- Bramstedt K.A. Steering clear of organ tourism. Kidney Review 2007.
Dr. Katrina A. Bramstedt is a noted medical ethicist associated with California Transplant Donor Network in Oakland, California. She also has a private practice in Marin County where she has performed over 800 ethics consultations and published over 75 articles in medical and bioethics journals. She lectures nationally and internationally and has made numerous appearances on television and radio discussing transplantation and donation. She is the co-author of The Organ Donor Experience: Good Samaritans and the Meaning of Altruism.