Friday, June 1, 2007

Tonight on Dutch TV: Citizens Get Their Awareness and Other Organs Raised!

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 is about to get shorter.

"The Big Donor Show" slated to go on air tonight has stirred controversy in the Netherlands and abroad. BNN, a channel aimed at young people, is screening the show on the fifth anniversary of the death of its founder, Bart de Graaff. He died after spending seven years on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. The attention the show has received worldwide has put the question of organ donation and a system to register donors on the international agenda.

It focuses on Lisa, a 37-year-old woman dying of an inoperable brain tumor. She must decide which of three patients selected by the producers, aged between 18 and 40, should receive her kidney. Viewers can offer their opinions by SMS text message.

"We came up with this bad taste show to get media attention. That way many people will watch it and it will get the discussion going," BNN channel director Laurens Drillich said in an interview with Dutch ANP news agency." Bart de Graaff would have loved it," Drillich said. The show was dreamt up by Endemol, the production company behind the show I've worked on most summers, Big Brother, and other reality television shows.

Despite a vow from the Dutch transplant foundation that the possible kidney transplant stemming from the show will not be carried out in one of their nine special transplant centres, Drillich said it will go ahead. He would not reveal any details but stressed there would be no cameras for the actual transplant. In the Netherlands, organ transplants are subject to strict laws which prohibit donors from choosing who will receive their organs after their death. However, an exemption is made in the case of kidney transplants, which can be carried out while the donor is still alive, allowing the donor to choose the beneficiary if there is some link between the two people.

BNN is hardly new to broadcasting controversial programs. Its history includes programs such as "Try Before You Die," which featured an anchorman streaking during a Wimbledon match between Maria Sharapova and Elena Dimentieva, and "This Is How You Screw," which focused on sex. Maarten van Dijk of BNN, which produced "This Is How You Screw," said the program was immensely popular, with its final episode in August drawing a million viewers (in a country of 16 million). The last show featured a segment on "how to have surreptitious sex at a nightclub," narrated by a "sex worker" operating life-size mannequins with sex organs. Holland Media Group, the one Dutch company that has continued with erotic programming, said it's going to stick with its "Erotic on Five" show, featuring bare torsos and buttocks, but no explicit sex. "The ratings are pretty good," said spokesman Onno Posthuma, "even if it's not exactly what you'd call a 'blockbuster."

I wonder how the two rejected candidates are going to feel after the show? Even with pressure from the government, it isn't likely that the Netherlands has become prudish overnight. I doubnt that BNN will pull this show and if it raised even a little awareness of the plight of people waiting for a kidney transplant, then maybe it's not such a bad thing. It's tasteless, shocking and downright bizarre but sometimes you've got to do some radical things to get people to wake up. I'm no expert, but I'm sure the problem is the same here in the US. But instead of putting on a show like this, we put on news stories of the "good effects" of someone donating a kidney to help someone else. I'm an organ about you? Heck, what good are they to me after I die?

As they say in Hollywood, bad publicity is good publicity. After all, this is the country that gave the world the voyeuristic "Big Brother" and "This Is How You Screw" programs, a land where drugs are considered "normal" and prostitution is legal! ;)