Amsterdam, Netherlands — A 37-year-old woman suffering from an inoperable brain tumor wants to donate a kidney before she dies and will choose the recipient from among three contestants on Dutch national television, a TV network said Tuesday, claiming it wants to highlight a crisis in organ donations.
Asked to intervene, the government declined, saying it would be censorship to stop the broadcast, regardless of how distasteful - and even unethical - it might be. And it's unclear whether the contestants are a medical match with the terminally ill woman, and whether the winner would be capable of receiving her kidney.
The publicly financed television network, BNN, said it intends to go ahead with the program on Friday, drawing attention to the hundreds of people who die each year for lack of a kidney transplant.
The scheduled broadcast of "The Big Donor Show" reached the floor of parliament after a member of the governing Christian Democrats, Joop Atsma, questioned whether a public contest for a lifesaving organ would cross the boundary of merely objectionable to actually illegal.
"The information I have right now tells me that the program is unfitting and unethical, especially due to the competitive element, but it's up to program makers to make their choices," responded Education Minister Ronald Plasterk.
Government interference, he said, would amount to censorship.
BNN defended the program. "Some people will think it's tasteless, but we think the reality is even more shocking and tasteless: Waiting for an organ is just like playing the lottery," said network chairman Laurens Drillich.
"The Big Donor Show" is produced by Endemol NV, which created the "Big Brother" concept in 1999 and marketed it around the world, setting off the rage of reality TV.
The network identified the donor only as "Lisa" and gave no other information about her. During the show, she will hear interviews with the three candidates, their families and friends before choosing who will get her kidney.
Viewers will be able to vote for a candidate via SMS text message, but the final determination will be Lisa's, BNN said.
Though she intends to donate the kidney while still alive, she would be free to donate other organs after her death under the normal organ allotment system, said BNN spokeswoman Marieke Saly.
But there's no guarantee that Lisa's choice will actually receive the organ.
Plasterk said that as with any transplant, the tissues of the donor and the recipient must be compatible. "The doctors in this program can't make any concessions on that front," he said during a lively parliament debate.
"So it's very possible that in practical terms, we're not talking about anything here, because it's possible this transplant can't take place," he said.