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Despite years of work, there is still a drastic shortage of organs for transplant in the United States. In fact, the numbers are getting worse. Facebook has come up with one new idea. The company's making organ-donation status something that you can add to your profile.
Another idea that's been tossed around for some time is compensation for a donated organ. And a new poll, conducted by NPR and our partner Thomson Reuters found a lot of support for that, even though federal law currently bans payments for organs. Scott Hensley, the host for our health blog, Shots, is here to share what the poll found.
Scott, thanks for coming in.
SCOTT HENSLEY, BYLINE: My pleasure.
GREENE: Your poll reached out to 3,000 people, as I understand it. What kinds of donations were you asking people about?
HENSLEY: We asked people about the kinds of donations they can make while they're still alive. So we concentrated on kidneys, a portion of liver, and also bone marrow. Three things that are in high demand.
GREENE: So we're talking about while you're still alive. This is different from, you know, if I die, you know, they can take an organ in those first hours after death and donate them to someone.
Right. We thought if we were going to concentrate on the compensation question that it would make sense to look at those things where somebody could benefit from the compensation that they would conceivably get if they decided, yes, I'll go ahead and make my organs available.
OK. What sorts of options are we talking about and how did people react to the idea of compensation?
HENSLEY: Overall, 60 percent of the people who we asked said they were in favor of compensation for organ donation if it took the form of credits towards some future health care expense, like getting treated for something or health insurance. When we asked other options, like a tax credit or reimbursement for tuition or cash, then it dropped below a majority. And those responses were all in the 40 percent range.
INSKEEP: And why do you think that is? Why would people be more supportive of helping me with my own health care in the future, less supportive of, you know, some sort of tax credit?
HENSLEY: I suspect that people recognize that when people make a donation of a kidney, for instance, that there is the potential that down the road something might happen to them and they might need extra care. So it probably makes more sense to people; yes, if we're going to compensate someone let's do it kind of in kind. Give it to them for something that would help them with a health care problem that they might have down the road.
GREENE: Did you ask about who might be paying this compensation and did people offer preferences about that?
HENSLEY: We did ask. And it did make a difference. So when it came to the preferred group to make that payment, it was health insurers at about 72 percent. And then after that the next most preferred were either the government or a charity.
GREENE: That's 72 percent saying that they'd be in favor of health insurers carrying the burden for this compensation.
GREENE: If we're talking about potentially, you know, tax credits or some sort of future health care benefit as compensation, what kinds of values are being discussed?
HENSLEY: Pretty modest, it turned out. So the most common response was that it should be less than $10,000. Thirty-seven percent of the respondents who were in favor of some form of compensation said it should be that amount or lower. And then the next most common response at 27 percent was that it should be between $10,000 and $25,000.
GREENE: Just so we're clear, as we mentioned, federal law has restrictions on this. Right now, these sorts of options - tax credits, health care benefits - would not be permitted under the law.
HENSLEY: That's right. Although, in the case of bone marrow there's been litigation around this. And recently the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court upheld the notion that some form of compensation for bone marrow would be OK. There's a way to take bone marrow out of circulating blood. And that might be a way to get around the core of the law.
GREENE: And why does federal law restrict it in most cases right now?
HENSLEY: There's a real worry that this system that's built on altruism could be eroded by the financial compensation. So would there be an exploitation of poor people who would rush forward to give organs in order to make a little bit of money if they were paid cash, for instance.
GREENE: And right now, if I decide to donate my kidney, is there any type of compensation that I get?
HENSLEY: A pat on the back, a good feeling in your heart that you did a good deed.
GREENE: OK. Scott Hensley is the host of our health care blog Shots, and he's speaking to us about a new poll asking respondents what they think of compensation in theory for donating organs.
Scott, thanks for coming by.
HENSLEY: My pleasure.
GREENE: And for the complete text of the questions asked in that poll and a breakdown of the responses, check out the Shots blog at NPR.org.
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