AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A Dutch reality show that claims to be trying to draw attention to a shortage of organ donors said Tuesday it would go ahead with a program in which a terminally ill woman will choose a contestant to receive one of her kidneys.
The program, "Big Donor Show," has been attacked as unethical and tasteless. At least one member of the Dutch parliament plans to ask the government to block Friday's broadcast.
"We know that this program is super controversial and 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," Laurens Drillich, chairman of the BNN network, said in a statement.
She said waiting lists in the Netherlands are more than four years long and 200 patients die annually for lack of a donor.
The network identified the donor as "Lisa," a 37-year-old woman with an inoperable brain tumor. During the show, she will hear interviews with the three candidates, their families and friends before choosing who will get her kidney.
The show is being produced by Endemol NV, the creator of the "Big Brother" series.
A spokeswoman for BNN said that there could be no guarantees the donation would actually be made, "but the intention is" Lisa's donation would be carried out before she died.
That is because her wish to donate to a particular candidate "wouldn't be valid anymore after her death" under Dutch donation rules, Marieke Saly said. If Lisa does donate one kidney while living, the other kidney may still be awarded to someone else on a national donation waiting list according under the country's organ allotment system.
Viewers will be able to vote for the candidate they feel is most deserving via SMS text message, but "Lisa will determine who the happy one is," BNN said in a statement.
Saly could not say how much it will cost to send an SMS, but most TV programs charge around $1.35.
Joop Atsma, a lawmaker of the ruling Christian Democrats, said he would try to persuade the health and communications ministers to halt the program. "I want to block this. This is truly not permissible," he told NOS radio Saturday.
"How are the two rejected candidates supposed to feel after the broadcast?"
In Brussels, the European Union Commission, which is due to announce an organ donor policy on Wednesday, criticized the scheduled TV program.
"It seems in rather bad taste to do a real TV show on something like this, which is after all a very serious issue," said EU Spokesman Philip Tod.
Paul Beerkens, director of the country's Kidney Institute said he thought it was "fantastic" that BNN was drawing attention to the problem of donor shortages.
"But the way in which they're doing this is definitely not our choice," he was quoted saying by Dutch news agency ANP. "This is not a structural solution."