CHICAGO – About 90,000 Americans currently need transplant organs, and that list grows longer every day.
Barbara McCutchan of Tucson, Ariz., was on that list after her kidneys failed. To do the job of removing toxins from her blood, McCutchan endured physically draining dialysis, but in September, McCutchan's prayers were answered.
After scouring the Internet, McCutchan came across Matchingdonors.com, a Web site where people in need of a variety of organ transplants can seek out perfect strangers for an organ. It was there that she found Bob Webb, a living donor who was working as a bank employee in Tucson.
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Just three days later, on Sept. 14, McCutchan found a doctor to do the transplant in Scottsdale, Ariz. Webb said he got nothing material out of his donation.
"Nothing ... other than a 'good Samaritan act' ... and the joy that I know that if something were to happen to me during the surgery ... or even after the surgery or whenever my time comes ... when I stand before my maker ... I can say, 'This is what I did,'" Webb said.
Some medical ethicists fear this opens the door for turning human organs into a commodity.
"There are many areas of our society that are best handled in the marketplace," said Robert Truog of Harvard Medical School. "But life and death issues like organ transplantation is something where we really need to make sure that it is being done fairly and safely."
Other critics say the Web site allows people to cut ahead in line on the long organ waiting lists. But McCutchan said her method was fair.
"I have not taken a cadaver kidney from anyone," she said. "I haven't put anybody off that list ... and I feel no guilt because I went ahead. I went out and found my own. I believe that God helps those who help themselves ... and sometimes you have to take the initiative to help yourself."
Although it's illegal to sell or buy an organ for profit, what Matchingdonors.com is doing — matching donors with recipients — is legal. But that doesn't satisfy the organization in charge of all the organ waiting lists, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
"It's always a concern that this could be perceived by the public as being unfair and we need to assure and keep the public's trust in our organ procurement and transplant network. Otherwise ... donations across the board could go down," said UNOS President Robert Metzger.