Jewish World Review June 20, 2002 / 10 Tamuz, 5762

AMA allows study of paying for organs

By Ed Susman | (UPI) The American Medical Association's House of Delegates voted this week to permit the study of pilot programs that would pay financial incentives to survivors who allow dead relatives' organs to be donated for transplantation.

The delegates rejected the emotional arguments of some doctors who decried allowing studies that, they said, might lead to turning human body parts in commodities.

Dr. Frank Riddick Jr., chairman of the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, which wrote the report, said, "The AMA is not endorsing the use of financial incentives to increase organ donation. It is simply recommending that this concept be studied."

Riddick, an internist from New Orleans, La., noted during the debate at the AMA's annual meeting: "Sixteen Americans die needlessly each and every day because there aren't enough available organs to save their lives. As America's physicians, this is a problem we must address."

The vote surprised some AMA delegates, especially because a key committee had recommended the association's House of delegates kill the proposal.

Dr. Bruce Scott, an otolaryngologist from Louisville, Ky., and a member of the AMA Board of Trustees, suggested alternatively that the report be referred back to the ethics panel for more study. Scott's suggestion was overwhelmingly rejected.

"When the house defeated referral, I thought the proposal was dead," said Dr. Michael Williams, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, who often counsels families regarding organ donation when a relative is declared "brain dead." But the voice vote approving the report was definitive, prompting Williams to comment, "I was surprised that it passed."

Scott cautioned the approval does not mean the AMA will fund such studies. Instead, it places the weight of the organization behind legislative attempts to allow such studies. Financial incentives for donation of organs from cadavers is prohibited by federal law.

Dr. Duane Cady, a surgeon in Lafayette, N.Y., and a member of the AMA Board of Trustees, said groups in Texas and New York are ready to begin the legislative process that could allow the pilot studies.

Another trustee, Dr. John Nelson, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Salt Lake City, Utah, said he is aware of other groups seeking new ways -- including financial considerations -- to increase organ donation.

Riddick said about 80,000 Americans are on waiting lists for donated organs. He said his council's report will not change the way organs are distributed -- that will still be under the aegis of the United Network for Organ Sharing -- nor will it change the determination of who receives an organ. That is based on need, geography and the patient's condition, he said.

The chief objections to the proposal originated from Midwest physicians -- traditionally an area with the highest rates of organ donation. Dr. Kevin Nohner, a family practitioner in Omaha, Neb., urged defeat of the proposal and no further study, saying, "Time does not change what is morally correct."

Dr. Sara Walker of Columbia, Mo., representing the American College of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine, concurred: "We do not support financial incentives in any form."

Riddick explained that the council report said studies should try to determine a level of financial incentive that would be higher than a pittance, but less than what might be considered exploitation. Among proposals would be a range of payments from $300 to $1000, tax relief for families that donated, or perhaps helping to pay funeral expenses.

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© 2002, United Press International