Contestants Vie for Kidney on Dutch Reality TV


For most patients around the world in need of a kidney, life is an interminable waiting game for an elusive matching donor.

The Netherlands is no different. According to Bert Elbertse, publicity director for the leading Dutch health organization, NIGZ, waiting lists for a kidney stretch to a grueling four and a half years, on average.

But for one Dutch citizen, the wait just got shorter.

This Friday three patients will compete to receive a kidney from a terminally ill young woman, 37-year-old "Lisa."

Dutch TV channel BNN and the producers of the controversial U.K.-based reality show "Big Brother" have come together to produce "Big Donor Show."

Watch "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. EDT for more on this story.

The program, which will be broadcast live on BNN this Friday, will show the three "contestants" (each of whom is a match for Lisa's organs) vying for one of her kidneys.

Unhappy with the prevailing policy on donor anonymity in the Netherlands, Lisa decided that she wanted to know the person who would receive her kidney while she was still alive.

On the show, the three prospective recipients will share details of their lives and discuss the day-to-day challenges they face. The 90-minute broadcast will also feature interviews with each candidate's family and friends.

All this in a bid to elicit sympathy not just from Lisa, but, more importantly, the viewers.

Executives Defend Show

When contacted Laurens Drillich, BNN chairman, he acknowledged that "the program is tasteless." But, he added, "the reality of having to wait years for organs is much more tasteless, in my opinion."

"At least in this case," he said, "the contestants in the show have a 33 percent chance of getting a new kidney. They would have to wait much longer in real life for the same deal."

Dutch politicians and media commentators have been quick to censure BNN for exploiting such a serious issue for a ratings grab.

The network, however, argues that its motives are not commercial in the slightest. In an interview with, Drillich insisted that "BNN is a public TV channel, not a commercial channel. We are not selling ads, we will not be charging viewers to vote by text message, we have no intention of making money from this show."

Why do it then, in the face of such intense criticism?

Drillich said, "BNN's reasons for getting involved in this program are quite personal."

In fact, the channel's founder, Bart de Graaff, was himself a kidney patient who spent 13 years on a waiting list for a healthy kidney.

De Graaff was fortunate enough to receive a kidney; unfortunately, he didn't receive it quickly enough. By the time de Graaff received the organ, Drillich said, "his body was so weakened that he died within three years."

Since de Graaff's death, Drillich said, "BNN has made a consistent effort to generate awareness about the deplorable situation in the Netherlands, as far as organ donation is concerned."

"Of course," he conceded, "we could have made a tasteful documentary about the issue, but how many people would watch that?"

"This way," he continued, "we are hoping to reach a much larger audience and alert them to this problem."

Lawmakers Call for Ban

But neither health officials nor politicians seem to agree with Drillich's analysis.

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