Singapore's health minister, Khaw Boon Wan, says his city-state could become the second country in the world -- after Iran -- to allow the sale of live kidneys for transplant.
"We should not reject any idea just because it is radical or controversial. We may be able to find an acceptable way to allow a meaningful compensation for some living, unrelated kidney donors without breaching ethical principles or hurting the sensitivities of others."
The Singapore Medical Association has come out against the idea. Professor A. Vathsala, director of adult renal transplantation program at Singapore's National University Hospital, says the practice is wrong.
"It is not a good idea to legalize payment for organ donors as such payment institutionalizes the belief that the wealthy ill have property rights to the body parts of the poor."
Supporters say paying donors for their kidneys could help solve a severe shortage in Singapore, where the waiting list for a kidney transplant is up to nine years. Lee Wei Ling, director of the National Neuroscience Institute and daughter of Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yewm, supports the idea.
"If monetary incentive makes a potential living donor more willing to save another life, what is wrong in allowing that?"
The World Health Organization opposes commercial sale of organs, says Luc Noel, a WHO coordinator for essential health technologies.
"Rich people have no reason to sell a kidney. That is the flaw that is unacceptable in any scheme involving purchasing a kidney: it's exploitative."
Last February, police in India broke up a black-market organ ring that may have taken as many as 500 kidneys from poor laborers and sold them to foreigners from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. A Canadian doctor, Amit Kumar, is at the centre of that investigation.
Noel said any legalizing of kidney sales would hurt Singapore's carefully crafted image as a high-end provider of care for medical tourists.
"That sounds like a nightmare. I seriously do not think Singapore would like to create this image. They don't want to be the place where you can obtain the parts of another person."