Financial incentives for cadaver organ donation: an ethical reappraisal

Transplantation. 2002 Apr 27;73(8):1361-7. doi: 10.1097/00007890-200204270-00034.


A panel of ethicists, organ procurement organization executives, physicians, and surgeons was convened by the sponsorship of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons to determine whether an ethically acceptable pilot trial could be proposed to provide a financial incentive for a family to consent to the donation of organs from a deceased relative. An ethical methodology was developed that could be applied to any proposal for monetary compensation to elucidate its ethical acceptability. An inverse relationship between financial incentives for increasing the families' consent for cadaver donation that clearly would be ethically acceptable (e.g., a contribution to a charity chosen by the family or a reimbursement for funeral expenses) and those approaches that would more likely increase the rate of donation (e.g., direct payment or tax incentive) was evident. The panel was unanimously opposed to the exchange of money for cadaver donor organs because either a direct payment or tax incentive would violate the ideal standard of altruism in organ donation and unacceptably commercialize the value of human life by commodifying donated organs. However, a majority of the panel members supported reimbursement for funeral expenses or a charitable contribution as an ethically permissible approach. The panel concluded that the concept of the organ as a gift could be sustained by a funeral reimbursement or charitable contribution that conveyed the appreciation of society to the family for their donation. Depending on the amount of reimbursement provided for funeral expenses, this approach could be ethically distinguished from a direct payment, by their intrusion into the realm of altruism and voluntariness. We suggest that a pilot project be conducted to determine whether this kind of a financial incentive would be acceptable to the public and successful in increasing organ donation.

MeSH terms

  • Cadaver
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Fund Raising*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Tissue Donors*