Ethicists dash hopes for internet kidney donors

Edmonton kidney patient, transplant surgeon call for living organ donation registry in Canada.

A young woman who appealed on the internet for a kidney donation has stirred up controversy among health administrators, ethicists and ordinary citizens.

Loni Wells, 20, never intended to raise eyebrows; she just wanted to fulfil her Christmas wish for a new kidney. The Edmonton woman undergoes dialysis every day to purify her blood while she waits.

Donors from as far away as Florida offered to come give Wells a kidney, based solely on her internet appeal.

Wells has a list of 36 potential donors, but since they don't know her, they aren't eligible.

"Oh, it crushes my spirit, it makes me mad," said Wells. "Every day I have to get up and I don't feel good, and I'm not eating. Dialysis takes this big chunk out of my life."

When donors contacted the local health authority, their offers were turned down. "There has to be an emotional bond, a close relationship to proceed to any further steps," explained Ed Greenberg of Capital Health in Edmonton.

Canadian law doesn't address donations by strangers, saying only that human organs can't be bought or sold. Transplant programs, though, insist living donors be family or close friends.

"The concern has always been a subtle form of coercion might exist," said Prof. Tim Caulfield, research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta.

Nearly 3,000 Canadians are waiting for the ultimate gift of a kidney transplant. About 1,100 of the procedures are done each year.

"As the need increases, it's apparent the need will not be filled by donation from non-living people," said transplant surgeon Dr. Philip Belitski.

"We need to look more seriously and widely at the potential for living donation," added the chair of the Canadian Council on Donation and Transplantation, in Halifax.

As kidney transplants have become safer for both the donor and recipient, new research suggests more people are willing to give up a kidney for a stranger.

Although the research rang true for Wells, she's now turning to a relative whose donation may fit the bill. She and her family say they'll push for a living donor registry for those in need.