by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Before we address some of the challenges in living donor organ donations , it is important to mention that you earned your J.D, in Health and FDA Law at Georgetown Law School and a PhD in Bioethics from Georgetown. You are a member of the DC Bar, a member of American Society For Bioethics and Humanities, a member of American Society of Medicine and Ethics, a member (medical ethicist) of the Organ and Tissue Advisory Committee for the Washington Regional Transplant Community.
What initially interested you in the challenges of organ transplantation?
Sigrid: While I was a graduate student in bioethics, my mentor Robert Veatch was testifying before Congress to ban the sale of organs, so all of us were discussing the relevant issues. Then just 4 years after the National Organ Transplant Act was passed my son had kidney cancer and ever since I’ve worked in one form or another on solving the organ shortage.
Gordon: What are some of the differences between the donation of living and deceased organs?
Sigrid: The big ethical issue is that once a person is dead, you can’t hurt them. All living organ donation is inherently risky for the donor. If we could solve our organ shortage with just organs from the recently deceased no one would be talking about living organ donation at all.
Gordon: What research is being done on the use of organ donations with hepatitis c and HIV ?
Sigrid: I don’t know about what research is being done. I know UNOS just approved the use of organs from people with HIV and Hep C for transplantation into people who have Hep C and HIV
Sigrid: Actually my book tells my story of how I ended up going to Iran and the people I met there – including the living organ donors I met. It is amazing, the reasons why people donate for money. As you would expect, they donate because they are poor, in debt, and out of work, but some donate because they want to start a business, pay for expensive medical treatment abroad for a loved one, build an addition on their house, send a child to college.
The problem is payment in and of itself is problematic because it makes those who donate look bad. It gives the impression, at least this is what donors in Iran told me, that the donor is desperate and can’t hold down a job or take adequate care of his family. We want donors to be looked at as heroes and I don’t think paying donors and thinking of them as heroes are compatible social constructs. Paying donors expenses is fine, and taking care of donors if they have complications – but paying them to entice them to donate is somehow unseemly – gives the impression the person is desperate for money, and diminishes how the general public sees the act of donation. Potentially, in a rich country like the U.S., paying donors could even backfire, and cause the number of donations to go down – because those who would donate for altruistic reasons don’t want people to think they donated for money.
Gordon: In closing, here is Help Sasha save her soulmate Chad