A do-good TV reality show highlighting the need for more organ donors, or a programme plumbing new depths in bad taste? Amid a swirl of controversy, a Dutch channel Friday was to air a terminally ill woman deciding who will receive her kidney.
The controversy stirred by "The Big DonorShow" has spread even beyond the borders of the Netherlands, but public broadcaster BNN is determined to go ahead.
AdvertisementWhile acknowledging the programme's potential for bad taste and insisting the show will be a one-off one-nighter, BNN says the fury triggered by the idea has successfully thrown the question of organ donation on the map world wide.
"BNN is done with talking, it is time for action. In the Big DonorShow a terminally ill woman will choose which one of three kidney patients will get her kidney. That is not gruesome, that is real life," says BNN's website.
"Every year hundreds of people die because there are not enough donors," it adds.
Significantly, the young people's channel, which has built up a reputation for controversy, is screening the show on the fifth anniversary of the death of its founder, Bart de Graaff -- he died after waiting years for a kidney transplant.
The notion was the brainchild of Endemol, the Dutch production company behind Big Brother and many other reality TV shows spinning the globe.
Its star is Lisa, a 37-year-old woman dying of a brain tumor who must decide which of three patients selected by the producers -- aged between 18 and 40 -- should receive her kidney.
Viewers can join in with advice by SMS text message.
This is not the first time BNN has courted controversy. Previous broadcasts include "Sex, a User's Guide", a series of no-holds-barred education programmes, and "Shoot Up and Swallow", a series dedicated to sex and drugs.
Last year the network won praise for another hair-raising show, "Over My Dead Body," documenting the lives and deaths of terminally ill young people.
The Dutch Minister of Health Ab Klink and minster in charge of media Ronald Plasterk have both condemned Friday's donor circus as "inappropriate and unethical because of the contest element". But they insisted they would not ban the broadcast as "that would be censorship".
BNN meanwhile said that even before going to air, the programme had had the desired effect of drawing new donors, with several people calling to offer their kidneys for the candidates who will be rejected on the show.
The Dutch health authorities countered that despite the media attention, there was no noticeable rise in the number of people registering as donors.
And the Dutch transplant foundation has vowed that a possible kidney transplant stemming from the show will not be carried out in one of its nine special transplant centres.
The Dutch doctor's federation KNMG has called on its members not to contribute to the show. "The suffering of people should never be the object of an amusement show," it said in a statement.
The federation also pointed out that a transplant organized during the show might very well not be a success.
"It is doctors who bear the responsibility for the success of a transplant and they determine who gets operated on, not the BNN producers. Because of the medical, legal and ethical questions surrounding this case the KNMG thinks the chances of this operation going ahead are extremely slim," they said.
BNN says a transplant will go through, but would not reveal details about how and where, other than to pledge there would be no cameras in the operating theatre.
In the Netherlands, organ transplants are subject to strict laws which prohibit donors from choosing who will receive their organs after their death.
However, an exception is made in the case of kidney transplants, which can be carried out while the donor is still alive, allowing the donor to choose the beneficiary if there is some link between the two people.
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