Ontariomay offer financial compensation to encourage living donors to give up a kidney or part of a liver for transplant, the provincial health minister said Tuesday.

'When someone steps forward … you really don't want them worrying about financial issues at the same time.' —Frank Markel, Trillium Gift of Life Network

George Smitherman told reporters that the province wants to focus on increasing the number of live organ donors, as recommended by a report he received from an advisory panel last week.

He said the government may be able to do thatby recognizing the risks taken by donors and paying some of their expenses.

"Their livelihood could be placed at risk, and the health implications could be quite serious and the costs quite substantial as well," Smitherman said.

"I don't think that anyone's interested in the idea that we're going to place a value on a particular organ and create a marketplace around that.

"But I think that it is appropriate that we look at what is appropriate on the government's part to provide people with some resources."

Many potential donors discouraged by cost

More than 1,700 peoplein Ontario are waiting for organ transplants.

Yet fewer than 300 live donors gave up either part of a liver or a kidney in the provincein 2006, according toFrank Markel, the president and CEO of the Trillium Gift of Life Network.

Markel, whose organization is Ontario's central organ and tissue donation agency,saidmany potential donors are discouraged by the cost.

"Even for those people who are prepared to donate, it's a considerable inconvenience and it's a concern," he said.

"When someone steps forward and is considerate enough to be a donor, you really don't want them worrying about financial issues at the same time."

B.C. project pays donors up to $5,500

Smitherman said the provinceislooking at a three-year live donor pilot project started in the summer of 2006inBritish Columbiaas a model for how to remove those types of barriers.

As part of its review, Ontario's organ transplant advisory panel studied the B.C. project, whichreimburses live donors up to $5,500 for accommodation, travel, meals, lost income and other costsof donating an organ.

Theadvisory panel was made up ofcitizens appointed by the government to figure out how to increase organ donations in the province.

Smitherman said he would soon release the panel's report.

With files from the Canadian Press