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updated 10/10/2011 5:00:11 PM ET 2011-10-10T21:00:11

Offering free funerals to people who donate kidneys, livers and other organs could help boost donation rates, an influential British medical ethics group says.

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In a set of recommendations published Monday, the Nuffield Council listed various ways to encourage people to donate more body parts, including organs, blood, eggs and sperm.

It suggested that Britain's health system test the idea of paying for the funerals of people who sign up to the national organ donor register and then die after donating a body part. The free funerals would not be available to living donors, such as people who voluntarily give up a kidney, bone marrow, or liver.

"We have ruled out giving people a direct financial incentive to donate," said Keith Rigg, a transplant surgeon at Nottingham University Hospital and an author of the report.

Rigg told reporters Monday that the free funeral idea would not benefit the donor, but might offer surviving relatives help at a difficult time. He said it was similar to what's done in medical schools, which often cover the burial or cremation costs of people who donate their bodies for anatomy and other classes.

While there are 18 million people in the U.K. signed up to donate organs, only about 1,000 people a year actually do so, mostly because few die in circumstances that allow their organs to be donated. Britain has among the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe and half the rate of the U.S.

Rigg said the funerals proposal should be tested first to see if it would actually increase organ donation rates, and that experts hadn't set a limit on the amount of money families would get for funeral expenses.

Other experts weren't sure it would work.

"Associating free funerals with organ donation is an odd reward," said Art Caplan, msnbc.com contributor and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "It reminds people of how they get to be an organ donor and may make them nervous."

Caplan said educating the public about the need for organ donation would be a better way to convince more people to donate.

John Harris, a bioethics professor at the University of Manchester, described the free funerals offer as "macabre" and said more people would sign up to donate if offered more direct incentives, such as cash.

"We shouldn't be hung up on this idea that altruism and recompense are mutually exclusive," he said. "It is not wrong to try to influence people to do good."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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