Donor payments scheme 'a good first step': ethicist

02 April, 2014

An Australian trial of payments for living organ donors could be a model for other countries, according to Charles Sturt University (CSU) medical ethicist Dr Alberto Giubilini.

In an article published in the journal Bioethics, Dr Giubilini from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) argues the $1.3 million scheme is a worthwhile investment but raises issues of justice in regard to the distribution of organs.

The Supporting Leave for Living Organ Donors Scheme provides living kidney and liver donors with the minimum wage for up to six weeks to help cover medical costs.

"The scheme is likely to encourage more people to donate organs and will give everybody, regardless of their income, the same opportunity to help someone in need. But most are likely to donate organs to family members or close family friends," said Dr Giubilini.

"People who are not fortunate enough to have someone willing to donate them an organ might not benefit at all from this trial."

Dr Giubilini argues that further government policy is needed to supplement the scheme, such as an 'opt-out' donation system or encouraging people to become donors by giving them priority status on transplant waiting lists in the event they needed an organ themselves.

He said campaigns to improve understanding of transplantation encouraging people to become donors are also important and often neglected by policy makers.

"For any policy, we need to make sure that the maximisation of organs available for transplantation is accompanied by a distribution of organs that is as fair as possible," said Dr Giubilini.

"The Australian trial scheme, if successful, should be seen as the first, but certainly not the conclusive step in this direction."