The current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) includes the results of a study about the economic and health consequences of selling a kidney in India. Although selling (or buying) body parts is illegal in India, itÕs an accepted practice, and the average price paid for a human kidney is just over $1000 U.S. dollars.
India and other developing countries do not have the monopoly on kidney commerce. Not long after eBay was launched, it shut down a spate of kidney auctions. Policymakers have even been debating whether to use financial incentives to reduce the kidney shortage. People are asking whether thereÕs anything wrong with a person who needs money selling a kidney to be transplanted into someone whose kidneys have failed.
ThatÕs why itÕs important that the lay media has stepped up to report the kidney-selling research results. JAMA is in the business of providing a prestigious forum for medical researchers to report results to a medical audience. JAMA publishes the results, but they donÕt tell anyone how to interpret them. The medical researchers do that in other forums, such as when mass-media journalists contact them. So JAMAÕs media relations professionals work their tails off to get journalists from the lay media interested in the research results. I donÕt know how difficult it was to get Eric Nagourney of the New York Times interested in the kidney-selling research, but he did a top-notch job telling the story beyond the science in a way that all of us can understand.
The kidney-selling study is a great example of how much can be learned when someone decides to use the scientific method to answer a controversial question. The results are chilling: in addition to the fact that poor people were still poor 3-6 years after selling a kidney, "about 86% of participants reported a deterioration in their health status after nephrectomy." (Live kidney donors in developed countries are much more likely to recover from the kidney removal process with their health intact.) And the mass-media coverage of the results is a great example of journalists doing a terrific job translating important medical information. After this past week of articles like NagourneyÕs and others, I cannot imagine our lawmakers spending too much more time debating the potential advantages of allowing organ sales from live donors.