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.

Organ Donor TV Show Triggers Condemnation(dying patient allows viewers to vote)

Published: May 31, 2007
Filed at 12:28 p.m. ET

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A Dutch TV station’s plan to air a reality show during which a dying woman will choose a recipient for her kidneys has triggered condemnation in Europe.

“Desperation becomes a spectacle in the Netherlands,” said Italian newspaper Del Corriere Della Sera.

This is a “macabre contest,” the Times of London said.

When the 80-minute show airs on Friday, a 37-year-old woman with a brain tumor, identified only as “Lisa,” will pick one of three candidates with kidney problems, based on their history and conversations with their families and friends.

Viewers are encouraged to advise her via text messages.

Public broadcaster BNN said the idea was to highlight the growing shortage of organ donors in the Netherlands and the show would also serve as a tribute to its founder who died of kidney failure five years ago despite several transplants.

Only the Dutch could spawn such a show, said conservative German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, referring to the steady stream of reality TV shows like “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor” from Dutch producers.

“The idea is so disgusting that it could only come from Dutch TV,” it said. Endemol, famous for producing the two pioneering reality TV shows, is also producing the donor show.

Website BellaOnline, which calls itself the voice of women, questioned whether Dutch TV had gone too far.

BNN made headlines some years back with a show called “Shooting and Swallowing” underlining the impact of drug use, and another show on sex called “This is How You Screw.”

Local media and Dutch people have been similarly critical.

“Social involvement is seen in another perspective if the suffering of one serves as entertainment for another,” De Volkskrant wrote in an editorial.

In a poll of 3,150 people conducted by mass-selling daily De Telegraaf, about two-thirds of respondents said they would not watch the show. Some called it “tasteless” and “harrowing.”

Callers to a local radio station even suggested the whole thing could be a hoax by BNN to boost its ratings.

The broadcaster has brushed off such criticism and said it was ready to go ahead with the one-episode show and the transplant.