A new study suggests offering cash incentives for organ donations could encourage more Canadians to sign their donor cards.

While selling organs is illegal in Canada, new research out of Alberta shows the majority of Canadians support offering financial incentives to the families of deceased donors.

A research team from the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and the University of Calgary headed the study, which surveyed members of the public, health professionals and those affected by kidney disease.

“We know that in all other facets of life, people do tend to respond to economic incentives. So if I’m willing to pay you, I’m more likely to get people to come forward,” study co-author Dr. Barden Manns told CTV Winnipeg.

“We’re not talking here about buying an organ from somebody and harvesting it in a hotel room,” he added.

The study shows 70 per cent of those surveyed found that financial incentives for deceased donors were acceptable, however, those numbers dropped significantly when surveyed about the acceptability of payment when the donation came from a living patient.

Only 14 per cent of health professionals thought it was acceptable for living donors to receive financial compensation, while 45 per cent of the public and 27 per cent of those affected by kidney disease deemed it acceptable. 

When it came to the type of financial incentive, reimbursement of funeral expenses for deceased donors and a tax break for living donors were believed to be the most acceptable.

Published in the October edition of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the study also examined the differences of opinion regarding compensation for organs based on household income.

“We did not find evidence that those with lower income would be more likely to donate for financial gain,” said researcher Lianne Barnieh in a statement. “Though it is not possible to determine through a questionnaire whether a system of financial incentives would exploit those with lower income, the results in our questionnaire did not show any evidence of this.”

The study shows a shortage of kidneys available to those in need of a transplant, while donation rates in Canada remain relatively unchanged over the last decade.

The Canadian Society of Transplantation says more than 4,000 Canadians are waiting for a potentially life-saving organ transplant while approximately 1,800 procedures were performed last year.

The agency noted that three-quarters of patients on the list are waiting for a kidney transplant.

More research is needed to determine what kind of impact financial incentives would have on donation rates, but one expert cited substantial ethical dilemmas when it came to the sale of organs.

“Frankly, I would think it would be bordering on obscene to offer financial compensation to the mother whose child has just died,” said Arthur Schafer of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.

With a report from CTV Winnipeg