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AMA to Study Organ Donor Payments

The United States' largest physicians' groups plans to study whether more Americans would become organ donors if they were paid. The American Medical Association's (AMA) policymaking House of Delegates voted to approve the survey over the objections of some doctors.

The AMA's . Such incentives could include reimbursement for funeral expenses and payments would not be offered to living donors.

The vote on Tuesday calling for the study went against the recommendation of an AMA committee, which heard testimony from doctors earlier in the week calling payment for organs unethical.

The U.S. Congress banned such payments in 1984. Patients who need organ transplants now depend on volunteers to supply them after their deaths. Dr. Frank Riddick of the AMA says that system does not work well. "There are 16 people who die every day on the waiting list and that is enough for many people to say that is a countervailing need that we are willing to gulp real hard and do it."

The United Network for Organ Sharing says there are about 5,000 to 6,000 cadaver organs donated each year in the United States. But the number of people who need transplants is now about 80,000 and increasing each year.

Several bills in Congress recommend various ways of trying to increase organ donations. One would offer a tax credit of up to $10,000 to the estate of an organ donor. The United Organ Sharing Network will discuss the issue when its board of directors meets next week.

Despite the organ shortage, many doctors oppose the idea of paying donors. Opponents like Dr. Kevin Flaherty of Wisconsin say payments are unethical. "It really does tend to make tissues and organs more like commodities," he says. "Is there going to be a futures commodities market for kidneys someday? I certainly hope not. I think people need to give because it is the right thing to do and you know that other people are depending on your generosity. To sell the organs is wrong."

Opponents also worry payments could create a commercial market for organs which might exploit poor families. The AMA says the study is not aimed at encouraging financial incentives, but rather to study what motivates people to become organ donors and determine whether financial incentives would affect that motivation.