updated 7/21/2008 12:43:25 PM ET 2008-07-21T16:43:25

Singapore will study the possibility of paying some kidney donors to help meet demand for kidney transplants, the city-state's health minister said Monday.

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The Health Ministry will examine the feasibility of providing payments to unrelated donors to augment the supply of kidneys, Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament, acknowledging that the suggestion has stirred controversy.

"We should not reject any idea just because it is radical or controversial," Khaw said. "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."

Khaw said the ministry would review possible changes to current legislation to allow payments for donations from third parties such as those from the charity and religious sectors. Such a change would need to be approved by Parliament to become law.

"There are desperate patients out there wishing to live and desperately poor people willing to exchange a kidney for a hopefully improved life," he said. "Criminalizing organ trading does not eliminate it ... it merely breeds a black market."

Khaw said the Health Ministry would also push to amend existing laws on organ transplants to remove an age limit on deceased donors, currently set at 60 years, because "the suitability of the organ depends on its condition rather than the age of the donor."

The Health Ministry will look into matching patients with donors by setting up a registry of possible donors, he said.

The two initiatives should enable Singapore to carry out 70 percent of the kidney transplants needed every year — up from 50 percent currently, the minister said.

He said about 1,000 new cases of kidney failure are diagnosed every year, with nearly 40 percent unable to survive the first year.

Khaw's comments follow the cases of two Indonesian men who were jailed and fined by a Singapore court earlier this month after being convicted of agreeing to sell their kidneys to two patients in the city-state.

Selling or buying organs or blood is illegal in Singapore, as in many other countries, and carries a penalty of up to 12 months' jail, or a fine of up to $7,405 or both.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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