Financial Incentives for Living Kidney Donors: Are They Necessary?


 2015; Published online June 6

Dominique E. Martin and Sarah L. White

In the face of the perceived failure of altruistic organ donation programs to generate sufficient kidneys to meet demand, introducing financial incentives for living donors is sometimes argued as the only effective strategy by which lives currently lost while awaiting kidney transplantation might be saved. This argument from life-saving necessity is implicit in many incentive proposals, but rarely challenged by opponents. The core empirical claims on which it rests are thus rarely interrogated: that the gap between supply of and demand for donor kidneys is large and growing, the current system cannot meet demand, and financial incentives would increase the overall supply of kidneys and thus save lives. We consider these claims in the context of the United States. While we acknowledge the plausibility of claims that incentives, if sufficiently large, may successfully recruit greater numbers of living donors, we argue that strategies compatible with the existing altruistic system may also increase the supply of kidneys and save lives otherwise lost to kidney failure. We conclude that current appeals to the life-saving necessity argument have yet to establish sufficient grounds to justify trials of incentives.

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