News

Concerns raised over organ donation “matching” website

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e5944 (Published 04 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5944
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1London

The UK Human Tissue Authority is to investigate a website that puts people seeking organ transplants in direct contact with potential living donors for a registration fee.

The website, MatchingDonors, which is based in the United States, launched a UK version last week (www.matchingdonors.co.uk). An initial review by the authority said that the website charged up to $595 (£375; €470) for potential organ recipients to register.

Arranging so called “directed altruistic donations” is not illegal in the United Kingdom, providing that there is valid consent between the parties and that no reward is given, received, offered, or sought for the supply of an organ.

Allan Marriott-Smith, director of strategy and quality at the authority, said that it hoped to clarify how the website would operate in the UK and the “legal implications.”

A spokesperson told the BMJ, “We will be writing to MatchingDonors to find out more about how the website works and what it means for donors and recipients who might sign up to it.”

In the NHS’s transplant scheme people who choose to donate a kidney to a stranger—becoming “non-directed altruistic donors”—do not know who will receive the organ at the time of donation and may never know, although a joint agreement can be made for contact after the surgery.

NHS Blood and Transplant said that it is important that organs are allocated fairly on the basis of greatest need and that anonymity of both parties remains in place.

But the shortage of donors and long waiting times for transplants have led to more people placing appeals directly on the internet to find identifiable living donors. Social media websites now offer to broker matches within and between countries.

NHS Blood and Transplant said that this relatively new development in altruistic donation “presents complex legal, ethical, and practical questions for everyone in the transplant community.”

The Human Tissue Authority is to launch a new framework for the assessment of directed altruistic donations next week. Currently, applications for approval of such donations are considered on a case by case basis.

On its website MatchingDonors says that it has become “the most successful non-profit organisation that is finding living altruistic organ donors for patients needing transplant.” The site says that it was set up in 2004 by Paul Dooley, whose father needed a kidney, and Jeremiah Lowney, a specialist in internal medicine.

Visitors to the site are warned that it is illegal to “have any financial benefit from organ donation” and that anyone who pays for a transplant or seeks or receives payment will be prosecuted.

On Tuesday 4 September there were 11 182 registered potential donors on the US website.

The BMJ contacted MatchingDonors for comment, but at the time of going to press no response had been received.

The Human Tissue Authority said that as directed altruistic donors and recipients tend not to have a pre-existing relationship further investigations may be needed so that it can be satisfied that no reward has changed hands and that any specialist matching website or potential broker operates within the UK law.

Marriott-Smith said, “The US website does not appear to provide information on how many successful organ donations have taken place after the ‘matching’ process. This is something that potential recipients may want to know in order to make an informed choice.

“The principle of organ donations, both from living and deceased people, being a freely given gift is the basis of the law in this area,” he said. “We must give careful consideration to new developments to make sure that they are within these parameters.”

The authority assessed more than 1200 cases of living organ donation in 2011-12. It approved 39 altruistic kidney donations, 3% of the total approved.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5944