Would you pay cash for a new kidney?

By Lauren Freeman - Anchor

HOUSTON - If you were sick and needed a new organ to live, how far would you go? Would you pay cash for a new kidney? Two economists say it's time to compensate live organ donors and it's creating a lot of controversy in the medical community.

It's been almost a life long battle for Denise Martinez. At just seven years old, she was diagnosed  with  Type 1 diabetes. Later it was renal failure. She desperately needed a kidney to survive. 

Her thoughts are the same as any other dialysis patient. 

"For a person who is waiting for an organ transplant that's all they can think about day and night," said Martinez.

Time is not a kidney transplant patient's friend. That's why professors Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize Laureate, and Julio J. Elias, are calling for change. They think the U.S. should create a compensation system for live donors.

"With a market system in which you will have competition, that will assure you quality in part I think that the quality will increase," said Elias.

Many in the medical community strongly disagree.

"Anytime you can buy and sell human parts your approaching or crossing a boundary we've been very reluctant to cross," said Kenneth W. Goodman, medical ethicist and Director of UM Bioethics Program.

The development of immunosuppressive drugs in the 1970's made kidney transplants more successful.  And that has increased the number of patients needing an organ. But in 2012, fewer than 20 percent of the 95,000 people on the waiting list received a lifesaving donation.

"People who need money are more likely to be donors then people who don't. And that puts the burden of donation or the burden of the system more heavily on poor people or people who are desperate for funds. It means that maybe it's not entirely voluntary," Goodman said.

Martinez received her kidney in 2009  and is now healthy.  She thinks cash for kidneys is something that needs to be considered.

"It's always an option. It would be nice if people who do have the money and are able to afford to make it easy for someone to donate an organ for them to be allowed to do it legally," she said.

Currently the biggest obstacle to donorship is the cost of the surgery and the cost of aftercare for donors. The national kidney foundation is working with insurance companies to increase coverage for live donorship.

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