Is it ethical to invite compatible pairs to participate in exchange programmes?

Journal of Medical Ethics 39 (12):743-747 (2013)
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Living kidney transplantation offers the best results for patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). This form of transplantation is no longer restricted to genetically or emotionally related donors, as shown by the acceptance of non-directed living anonymous donors, and the development of exchange programmes (EPs). EPs make it possible to perform living kidney transplantation among incompatible pairs, but while such programmes can help increase living organ donation, they can also create a degree of unfairness. Kidney transplant recipients in the O blood group are at a disadvantage when it comes to EPs because they can only receive organs from O donors, whereas O donors are universal donors. This poses a major challenge in terms of distributive justice and equity. A way to remedy this situation is through altruistic unbalanced paired kidney exchange (AUPKE), in which a compatible pair consisting of an O blood group donor and a non-O recipient is invited to participate in an EP. Although the AUPKE approach appears fairer for O recipients, it still raises ethical questions. How does this type of exchange affect the donor/recipient gift relationship? Should recipients in compatible pairs receive a ‘better organ’ than the one they would otherwise have received from their intended donor? Finally, what is the role of transplant teams in AUPKE? This article will examine the organisational and ethical challenges associated with EPs and AUPKE, and compare different EP policies in countries where such programmes exist



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Marie-Chantal Fortin