Kidney-donor TV show a hoax, producers admit

POSTED: 5:38 p.m. EDT, June 1, 2007

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (Reuters) — A Dutch reality television show in which a supposedly dying woman had to pick one of three contestants to whom she would donate a kidney was revealed as an elaborate hoax on Friday.

The show, which the broadcaster had said aimed to focus attention on a shortage of donor organs in the Netherlands, was condemned by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende before broadcast Friday night and sparked controversy worldwide.

Identified only as “Lisa,” the 37-year-old woman who had been said to be suffering from a brain tumor was to base her selection on the person’s history and conversations with the candidates’ families and friends.

In the last minutes of the program, she was revealed as a healthy actress and producers stunned viewers by saying “The Big Donorshow” was a hoax.

The contestants were also part of the deception, although all three are genuine kidney patients.

“Their life is bitter reality,” the host said after revealing the deception, just at the moment at which Lisa was to have stated her choice.

Dutch Education Minister Ronald Plasterk hailed the show as a “fantastic stunt” and an intelligent way to draw attention to the shortage of donor organs.

Heated debate expected

The show is expected to set off heated debate between those who believe reality television has gone too far and others who believe the publicity was generated for a good cause.

Producers apologized to viewers and said they hoped “outrage” over the show would turn into anger over the lack of organs for transplant.

Viewers in the Netherlands were asked to give advice via text messages in the 80-minute show, and appeals ran throughout for people to donate their organs.

Early in the show Lisa was shown selecting three people from 25 candidate profiles who matched her blood group.

“It feels like playing God,” said a fraught-looking Lisa. “Think of it as playing Santa Claus,” replied the show’s host.

The show had set off a storm of criticism, both at home and abroad, though some kidney patients said ahead of the show that they approved of it because it drew attention to their plight.

Balkenende had said the show was detrimental to the whole business of organ donation and it would do the reputation of the Netherlands no good abroad, Dutch news agency ANP said.

Dutch embassies received complaints from people expressing their shock over the show.

Public broadcaster BNN, which came up with the idea, said it wanted to draw attention to the growing shortage of organ donors in the Netherlands.

“Money has never been part of this thing, and no money will be made from this,” said BNN Chairman Laurans Drillich.

Callers to a local radio station had suggested the whole thing could be a hoax by BNN to build up its ratings.

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