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Body parts for sale

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A survey by Alberta physicians that proposes offering financial incentives for organ donations carries the ominous ring of cash for body parts that Canada currently bans. Some suggest, though, it shows maybe it's time to rethink the law.

It is a perilous proposition, particularly for the agencies and health professionals who work hard to give organ donation the priority it deserves in the minds of Canadians. The largest support (70 per cent) found in the survey of 2,500 people, including health-care workers and those on transplant wait lists, was for compensating -- for funeral expenses, for example -- families of the deceased. Only 40 per cent supported compensating, such as with tax breaks, living donors, nephrologist Braden Manns found.

Canada's organ-donation rate is mediocre. Hundreds die annually waiting for a transplant.

Despite the challenges and the tragedies of unmet need for organs, it is difficult to square the good intent with the potential consequences. The image of a family agreeing to donate a loved one's organs because it can't afford funeral expenses is inescapable.

Repeated surveys show donors act out of a sense of empathy, the ability to do good. This is the strength of donation programs and the reason health professionals take on the trying task of approaching the loved ones in their most vulnerable moments. Dr. Manns' survey found only 14 per cent of that group supported incentives. Introducing an offer of financial incentive risks turning them, and potential donors, off the magnanimous act of saving another's life. That would be defeating, indeed.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2012 A10

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