Altruistic kidney donation from living donors is an uncommon but growing practice in the UK. The number of people willing to give the gift of life to someone who is not only unrelated to them by blood or marriage but a complete stranger more than quadrupled from six in 2007/08 to 28 in 2010/11. At first only around 10 donations a year were expected but the figures have increased every year and are expected to go on rising.
The 100th altruistic kidney donation took place at the Royal Free Hospital in London in April 2012. The UK’s first altruistic donation was also at the Royal Free.
It’s often said that altruistic donation became legal for the first time in 2006. In fact, although it is not known to have happened before then, there was nothing in the law to stop living donors giving their kidneys to anyone they chose, including a stranger, long before that – as the first legislation covering living donation was not passed until 1989. The Human Organ Transplants Act 1989 was rushed through Parliament in response to a “kidneys for sale” scandal in which impoverished men from Turkey were recruited to Britain to provide kidneys for paying patients. The organisation that regulates doctors in the UK, the General Medical Council, brought proceedings against three doctors, including one of the leading transplant surgeons of the day. One doctor was struck off, and the other two had conditions placed on their practice.