My view: Organ ads ethically questionable

Published: Thursday, Aug. 26 2004 9:42 a.m. MDT

I have recently read many written accounts and watched numerous televised accounts of Todd Krampitz's quest for a donor liver by placing two billboards along a busy Houston highway. Most of this coverage never told both sides of the story.

While what the Krampitz family did is technically legal, advertising for organs is ethically questionable at best. The Krampitz family advertised for a directed organ donation. This type of donation usually involves a living donor, such as one person donating one of his kidneys to another person or an adult donating a portion of his liver to a child. Organs donated from the deceased are distributed according to a person's severity of illness and best chance of survival. More than 80,000 people are currently waiting for organ donation in the United States. All too many will die waiting.

By advertising for a directed donation liver from a family with a deceased relative, Todd put himself ahead of everyone else on the liver transplant waiting list. Unfortunately, this was not like butting in line at the movies or the grocery store. By taking someone else's place in line, Todd Krampitz most likely cost them their life.

And we can be sure that, whoever that person was, they wanted to live as desperately as Todd wanted to live. And their family loved them as much as Todd's family loves him. The only difference is that nobody knows who that person was. And we never will.

Advertising for organs is tantamount to reducing the dispersal of scarce donor organs to a popularity contest. While the organ donation system is far from perfect, it at least presents some semblance of fairness and is far preferable to turning organ donation into a public contest that is won by the most photogenic people with the best access to advertising venues and the most sympathetic story.

Advertising also results in the public rather than the medical establishment choosing who receives scarce donor organs. Who is more qualified to make that decision? One bit of information the Krampitz family neglected to publicize is the reason that Todd was so far down on the waiting list for a liver. According to an editorial that appeared in the Aug. 16 Houston Chronicle: "Although Krampitz was diagnosed this year with deadly liver cancer, he was not placed higher on the transplant list in part because a new liver is not expected to cure his disease."

So by overriding the transplant system, not only did Todd deprive someone else of this scarce donor liver, odds are he wasted this liver as well.

I am not writing without experience in this area. My mother received a liver transplant 10 years ago after suffering for 10 years with liver disease. She contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion during an operation 20 years ago. I am thankful every day that she is still with us and, while my family hoped and prayed that my mother's turn would come, it never occurred to us for a minute that we should search for ways to push her ahead of all the other equally desperate and equally deserving people on the waiting list.

The publicity surrounding Todd Krampitz's case, along with a looming hepatitis C epidemic, make it likely that there will be even more desperate people willing to advertise for organs.

Legislators should be considering that there will eventually need to be some kind of legal action taken in order to keep the playing field as level and as fair as possible.

What the Krampitz family did is only one small step away from the already illegal practice of selling donor organs to the highest bidder.


Maria Delvoye lives in Cedar City.

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