Until last year Swedish health officials used to politely turn down live donors, but in April 2004 the first patient received a donated kidney from a volunteer. This generated a lot of media attention, which resulted in more people stepping up to donate.
Since then some 50 people have volunteered at one of the country’s four transplantation units with a view to donating one of their kidneys.
In the United States it is quite normal for people to donate kidneys in the same way they donate blood, since one can be removed while the person continues to lead a normal life.
However, the procedure is not without its problems and an article in this week’s Dagens Medicin reports that so far only two out of the 50 Swedish volunteers are considered potential condidates.
The majority of the volunteers are in their twenties, and therefore deemed to be “too immature” to be able to make such a major life decision.
“They’re not too young legally, since they’re over 18, but I don’t think that people are mature enough to take such a decision in their twenties,” said Ingela Fehrman, Consultant at Sophiahemmet in Stockholm.
“We have an unwritten rule that says that people should be around 30 before donating one of their kidneys,” she added.
Others that were turned down were not in sufficiently good health, and one volunteer was over the age of 80.
“Altogether we’ve now interviewed 17 people, and of those only one remains, whom we hope to operate on soon,” said Annette Lennerling, nurse and patient coordinator at Sahlgrenska Univeristy hospital in Gothenburg.
Some volunteers withdrew their offer when they realised that it is a serious operation and that they will be off work on medical grounds for at least a couple of months. In the Stockholm region 16 volunteers registered, eight were immediately turned down, four others are still being investigated, two have withdrawn, and two have been operated on.
The lack of kidney donors may lead to further situations such as the one in Gävle where a 40 year old business owner was offering a job in return for a kidney. The story was reported by SR Gävleborg, and despite the fact that organ trade is illegal, the man had apparently become so desperate that the advertisment was his only way out.
Others have found donors via the internet and have been forced to travel abroad to have the exchange done.