For living organ donors, the cost of doing good

It takes quite a person to donate an organ to someone who needs it. You not only lose a body part, you lose money in some cases.

The number of living organ donors has dropped from a peak of 6,991 in 2004 to 5,819 last year, reports today.

For obvious reasons, it’s illegal to pay someone for an organ. On the other hand, donors lose time and money at work.

Tim Nagel, 52, of West Salem, Wis., near La Crosse, Wis., for example, lost nine weeks of work at his farm tire repair job because he donated a kidney to his sister last year. That cost him about $6,000.

Family and friends held a benefit for him and he got by.

There is assistance available. Wisconsin offers a tax deduction for those who itemize and The National Living Donor Assistance Center covers up to $6,000 in travel costs for some low-income donors, but it’s not much and most donors don’t qualify.

Some transplant advocates in Wisconsin are proposing new wage and travel assistance programs which would require the Family Medical Leave Act — 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons — to apply to living donors.

“We can be unjustly punished for donating,” said Peter Atkinson, 53, of Altoona, Wis., near Eau Claire, Wis. He donated a kidney to a friend in 2008.

But there are ethical issues here, says.

“If you know your kidney is worth $50,000 in tuition, that’s a new way of thinking about your kidney,” Art Derse, a bioethicist at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he said. “Suddenly, the kidney has a price tag.”