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Is living donation completely voluntary?

Maryam Valapour, M.D.

As the kidney transplant waiting list grows, so does the practice of living-donor kidney transplantation.

And as University of Minnesota researchers continue to study the safety of this practice, assistant professor of medicine and bioethicist Maryam Valapour, M.D., wants to know something more: What motivates people to accept the risks involved in donating an organ, entirely for someone else’s benefit? And are donors adequately informed of those risks?

Valapour’s early research indicates that about 40 percent of living donors report “some degree” of pressure to donate. Now she wants to know if that’s because a loved one depended on their organ or whether the organ donors felt that they couldn’t say no. Valapour says that understanding how donors think about their choices will help the transplant community find better ways of informing donors about the options available to them and their recipient.

In a current multicenter study, Valapour is surveying donors the day before their surgery and then again three months afterward in hopes of discovering how the stress of donating may or may not have changed their understanding of the issues involved. Had the donors known what they know now, afer the experience, would they have chosen to donate?

“As a medical community, yes, we have procedures that can save people’s lives,” she says.”We’re happy about that. That’s an advance. But we want to make sure we leave society better off.”

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