May 29, 2007 / 4:27 PM / 12 years ago

Row grows over Dutch organ donor show

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government criticized plans to air a reality television show during which a dying woman chooses a recipient for her kidneys, saying on Tuesday that the show was unethical.

“The intention of the program to get more attention for organ donation may be applaudable,” said Dutch Education and Culture Minister Ronald Plasterk.

“However based on the information I now have, the program appears to me to be inappropriate and unethical because it is a competition,” said Plasterk, who is a molecular biologist and former chief of the Dutch Cancer Institute.

A government spokesman said there was no law banning the live reality television show, which will be produced by Endemol, famed for its “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor” reality TV shows.

Dutch broadcaster BNN will air the 80-minute show on Friday at 1830 GMT as a single episode.

During the Big Donorshow, a 37-year-old woman will choose from three people with kidney problems.

The donor — identified only as “Lisa” — will decide based on the contestants’ history, profile and conversations with their families and friends. Viewers will be able to advise her via text messages during the live show.

BNN argues that the show highlights the shortage of organ donors and is a tribute to its founder Bart de Graaft who died of kidney failure five years ago despite several transplants.

“It is a sickening attempt to turn a serious subject about life and death into a form of entertainment, rather than a serious new attempt to try and get more donors,” mass-selling Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf said in an editorial.

The European Commission, which is due to discuss organ donation issues on Wednesday, was similarly critical.

“It seems in rather bad taste to do a reality TV show on something like this, which is after all a serious issue,” said European Commission health spokesman Philip Tod.

On Wednesday, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou will publish a new strategy to combat a shortage of donated organs, which figures show contributes to 10 deaths a day in the 27-nation bloc.

According to Tod, 40,000 patients are waiting for an organ transplant across the EU. The mortality rate while waiting for a heart, liver or lung transplant is between 15 and 30 percent.

The Commission is expected to focus on the importance of Europeans’ carrying organ donor cards along with better cooperation and harmonization of donor policies at EU level.

“The paper will outline common EU standards on the quality and safety of organ donations and transplants, which could secure a sufficient and safe supply or organs,” a Commission official said, citing the paper, planned well before the furor over the program.

BNN is known for airing other controversial reality TV shows, including one called “Shooting and Swallowing” illustrating the impact of drug use, and another show on sex called “This is How You Screw.”

Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Brussels and Gilbert Kreijger and Harro ten Wolde in Amsterdam

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