It's the kind of ethical question that is most often posited in dystopian books and films: Should cash incentives be offered for organ donation?
But now a new study out of Alberta suggests that Canadians might be more inclined to sign donor cards if offered financial compensation.
On Tuesday, CTV Winnipeg aired a segment that shed light on research conducted by the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and the University of Calgary.
After surveying the public, medical professionals and people awaiting kidney transplants, the research team concluded that 70 per cent of responders had no qualms about incentives for the family (such as funeral costs or tax breaks) if the donor is deceased.
Responses varied, however, when the option involved payment to a living donor. In this case, 45 per cent of the public supported the idea versus 27 per cent of kidney disease sufferers and 14 per cent of the medical community.
This would indicate that people still fear worst-case scenarios that have less to do with altruism than monetary gain.
Selling organs remains illegal in Canada.
"We're not talking about buying an organ from someone and harvesting it in a hotel room in a shady part of Calgary," insisted co-author Dr. Braden Manns to CTV Winnipeg.
The study first appeared in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. It involved 2,611 responders who answered questions via a Web survey. "Overall, reimbursement of funeral expenses for deceased donors and a tax break for living donors were the most acceptable," according to the abstract.
The underlying issue is that there are more people requiring organs than organs available, despite such recent initiatives as www.BeADonor.ca and www.signupforlife.ca, which allow Canadians to register as donors online.
Last month, The Globe's Carly Weeks reported that "nine-million people living in Ontario have not signed up to be organ donors (out of a population nearing 13 million)."
The CTV Winnipeg segment featured an ethics professor from the University of Manitoba who declared the idea of compensation for donation to be "bordering on obscene."
One important factor that remains unanswered: The study's authors did not determine what amount would be considered sufficient compensation.
How, after all, does one establish the cost of a kidney, a lung or a heart when life itself is priceless?