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FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2006

Session 7: Public Comments

Wendy Wright

DR. PELLEGRINO: I just didn't press hard enough.  Wendy Wright, is she here?


DR. PELLEGRINO:   Of Concerned Women of America.

MS. WRIGHT: Thank you for this opportunity (inaudible) but I am speaking to you today on organ procurement as a donor.  Four years ago I donated a kidney to a young man from Ethiopia.  I knew him from — I knew his sister actually, didn't actually know him.  Yesterday in listening to the discussions I felt like there were two groups of people that were being overlooked and these two groups are represented by myself and by Sora. 

Sora comes from a low income family.  If payments were allowed for organ procurement, he would not be able to afford — he'd always be at the bottom of the list because he would never be able to afford paying for an organ.  And so there was much discussion yesterday about how payments would affect the poor, but that attention was all on potential donors, not on recipients. 

The second group of people are those like myself, who donate altruistically and one comment that was made yesterday is that there is no moral impact of allowing payments on those that are of a middle or higher income.  I very much disagree.  One week before my surgery, there was an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that advocated allowing payment for organ harvesting.  Well, I, one week away from doing this, was incredibly offended, incredibly insulted, it actually caused me to think twice about what I was doing.  That if payment was allowed for this gift that my gift would be tainted and I'd be ashamed to tell people in the future that I had done this because it would appear as if I did it in order to get paid.

So, yes, there is a moral impact and unintended consequence on the group of people that everyone wants to have more of, those are the altruistic donors.  Yesterday, Professor Epstein, who, by the way, I think he authored that article in the Wall Street Journal that so offended me, he stated that transplantation is the only place that is regulated where compensation is treated as coercion.

That's not true.  Adoption, adoption is an area that is regulated that we certainly don't want to allow any perception of buying of babies.  So I have two recommendations for the Council.  One is, find out about altruistic people.  Learn about us, what motivates us, where are we.  There was a study that was done, written into a book called "The Altruistic Personality."  It's a study of people who had rescued Jews in Nazi occupied areas.  And they found that there are three types of people.  Fifty-two percent, the largest group, were those people who belonged to  a group in which this is what you did.   This was the right thing to do. 

The second group, 37 percent were those who had empathy for the victim and the smallest group, 11 percent, were those who were principled, they had very strong core beliefs that this was the right thing to do.

So I believe that the first priority that ought to be when you're looking at organ procurement, is to grow the pool of altruistic givers and in order to do that, first find out about them.  And also find out how to make the opportunities available, more known.  I've been willing to donate for years.  I've been on bone marrow registry for over 15 years but had never gotten a call.  It wasn't until there was someone I knew of that needed a kidney that gave me then an opportunity to come forward and to do this.

My second recommendation is "do no harm."  Please do not recommend anything that will have the unintended consequence of reducing the pool of altruistic givers or that would create more harm to the most poor patients who would not be able to afford to pay for organs.  Thank you.


DR. PELLEGRINO:   Thank you very much.

PROF. GEORGE:  Dr. Pellegrino, could I invite Wendy back to the microphone just to ask a question?

DR. PELLEGRINO:   Yes, surely.

PROF. GEORGE:  Wendy, if there were to be permitted a regulated market in organs, would something about that have precluded your making an altruistic private donation of the kidney to Sora or could there have been a market in which those transactions, if I can use that inappropriate word in these context, would be permissible anyway?  I mean, why would it preclude — why would a market preclude your doing for Sora the generous thing you did?

MS. WRIGHT: That's a good question.  All I can really go back to is that one week time, when — the one week before the surgery when I read about this and to me it would have been a huge hurdle.  It would have been — I would have felt like this decision was now tainted.  It would not be perceived as altruistic. And that's even if you have these — they say two areas.  You could have one which people could go into this arena and be paid or you could choose this other route of altruistic.  The average person out there wouldn't be able to make the distinction and that was something that concerned me. 

Now, I still would have gone through with it but I enjoy telling people what I've done because I want to encourage them to do the same thing.  And one friend of mine is willing now to donate a kidney if the opportunity arises.  I would not feel as willing to tell people if there was this concept of doing it for payment.

PROF. GEORGE:  Not to press you too hard or to subject you, Wendy, to a cross examination, but if you have a physician who is willing to, because he's already made quite a lot of money and he's got enough to retire on and take care of his family responsibilities and so forth, and is now going to dedicate himself to providing free medical services to the poor, can do that without his generosity being tainted by virtue of the fact that most other doctors are providing their services to people for money and he, himself, did that. 

Why couldn't it be the same with organ donors?  We would still praise the altruistic people who did it without financial incentives and people would know that some people do that and that's terrific and it wouldn't detract from our sense of their virtue that other people are — I'm not doing this —

MS. WRIGHT: No, no.

PROF. GEORGE:  — to promote the idea of a market, but it seems to me these are obvious possible lines of objection to the point you're making.

MS. WRIGHT: Right, I think it's the same kind of difference we have between those that are paid for their labor and prostitution.  Giving up an organ, it's a part of yourself that I believe we don't really have the right to sell.  And so I think there is a distinction, a distinction between labor and selling of human beings and their parts.

PROF. GEORGE:  But that makes me thing that it's not really so much a perception that other people won't understand the virtue of what you've done, rather that the foundation of it is this view that —


PROF. GEORGE:  — which Dr. Kass articulated so well, that there's something about the organ and its relationship to the person that makes it, perhaps, just inappropriate to be in commerce.

MS. WRIGHT: I completely agree with that.


DR. PELLEGRINO:   Thank you very much.  Meeting adjourned, thank you.

(Whereupon, at 12:01 p.m. the above-entitled matter concluded.)

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