A Dutch doctors’ association asked its members Friday not to take part in a TV show in which a terminally ill woman is to select from among three contestants to receive one of her kidneys.
The BNN television network said the “Big Donor Show,” to be aired Friday, is intended to draw attention to the shortage of organ donations for transplant.
Doctors doubted that an organ donation without careful screening to match the tissues of the donor and recipient was feasible, and the program has been widely condemned around Europe as tasteless and unethical.
The show is produced by Endemol, which created “Big Brother” in 1999, introducing the concept of reality TV.
The network has identified the donor only as “Lisa,” a 37-year-old woman with an inoperable brain tumor. During the show, BNN says, she will hear interviews with the three candidates, their families and friends before choosing who will get her kidney.
Viewers can express an opinion about the show or vote for their favorite candidate by SMS text message for 47 cents.
The Royal Netherlands Medical Association, known by its Dutch acronym KNMG, said it “values that BNN wants to draw attention to the shortage of organs, but finds this manner of doing so tasteless and unhelpful.”
It urged its members not to participate and questioned whether the program might just be a publicity stunt.
“Given the large medical, psychological, and legal uncertainties around this case, the KNMG considers the chance extremely small that it will ever come to an organ transplant,” it said.
KNMG spokeswoman Saskia van der Ree said the association’s advice to members was not binding, but a doctor who violated ethical guidelines or laws would lose his or her license.
All seven of the country’s transplant centers said they are not cooperating with the program, Van der Ree said, apparently leaving the transplant to be carried out abroad, if at all.
“You can’t rule that out,” she said.
Around 200 people die annually in the Netherlands while waiting for a kidney, and the average waiting time is more than four years.
Earlier in the week, the Cabinet declined suggestions from lawmakers to ban the program, saying that would amount to censorship.
BNN said the donation would happen before Lisa’s death. But doctors often refuse to accept organ donations from terminally ill patients because the operation could hasten their death.
Under Dutch rules, donors must be friends, or preferably, family of the recipient. Meeting on a TV show wouldn’t qualify.
BNN spokeswoman Marieke Saly said all arrangements for the program were completed, but she declined to comment on where and when the donation would be carried out.
If Lisa does donate one kidney while living, the other kidney could still be awarded to someone else after her death, but posthumous donations are governed by the country’s organ allotment system.