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Dutch TV kidney reality show was a hoax

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Dutch reality TV show broadcast yesterday evening which was designed to show a terminally ill woman choosing a patient to receive her kidneys has been shown to be a hoax. The Big Donor Show had attracted considerable condemnation earlier in the week when outline details had been released. The producers said that the programme was made to highlight the shortage of Dutch donors.

The "donor", known only as "Lisa", was an actress, although the three individuals competing for the kidneys are real patients requiring kidney transplants. The choice was to have been made based on the history and profile of the "contestants" and conversations that the actress is indicated to have had with their families and friends. Viewers were also invited to send in their advice by text message during the programme.

At the point in the show when the choice of recipient was to have been revealed, the show's presenter Patrick Lodiers revealed that the exercise had been a hoax. "We are not giving away a kidney here, that is going too far even for us," he said.

Political parties in The Netherlands together with medical organisations and kidney specialists had united in condemning the programme prior to its broadcast. Joop Atsma of the ruling Christian Democratic Party had said "It's a crazy idea. It can't be possible that, in the Netherlands, people vote about who's getting a kidney." Professor John Freehally, immediate past President of the UK Renal Association stated that "the scenario portrayed in this programme is ethically totally unacceptable", continuing that the show would cause confusion and anxiety rather than contributing further to an understanding of transplants. He also pointed out that the set up of the programme bears no relationship to the processes for making decisions about transplants in normal circumstances.

However, speaking after the broadcast, Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science Ronald Plasterk, claimed that the show was a "fantastic stunt" and kidney patient Caroline Klingers watching the programme at a treatment centre in the town of Bussum praised it saying that it would be "good for the publicity and there are no losers".

Speaking at a news conference after the programme, a producer said "We have only done this cry for help because we want to solve a problem that shouldn't be a problem", and this view was underlined by presenter Patrick Lodiers who claimed that it was "reality that was shocking" in that about 200 people die in the Netherlands each year waiting for a kidney where the average waiting time is more than four years. Bart de Graaff, the founder and former director of the TV station which broadcast the programme, died from kidney failure at the age of 35 after spending years on a transplant waiting list.

The programme was made by Endemol, the company which makes Big Brother and which is not immune from criticism. On Wednesday of this week it was required by UK regulator Ofcom to broadcast an apology for its handling of potentially racist material involving Indian actress Shilpa Shetty in the January 2007 Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. Ofcom had received a record number of 44,500 complaints.

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