LONDON — After prompting a storm of controversy around the world last week, Dutch reality show “The Big Donor Show” was continuing to divide opinion after its broadcast on Friday night, despite the fact that it was revealed as an elaborate hoax.
The program, which featured three genuine patients supposedly competing to receive a kidney transplant from a terminally ill woman, was widely condemned by politicians and medical professionals across Europe ahead of its broadcast on Dutch station BNN.
However, as the live show ended, it was revealed that the donor was in fact an actor, while the three patients were all in on the hoax, which was staged to raise awareness of the shortage of organ donors in The Netherlands.
“The aim of the show is to create attention for a huge problem we have in Holland,” said Endemol co-founder John de Mol, who spoke out in defense of the show in an exclusive interview with Variety.
“You just don’t have enough donors. People are dying in this country where thousands of people with healthy organs are buried or cremated without making use of those organs. There are a few very, very sad examples in the show of people who are about to die because they can’t get a kidney in time.”
Currently the average waiting time for a transplant kidney in the Netherlands is four and a half years, and fewer and fewer Dutch people are volunteering to be an organ donor, while the number of people that refuse to be a donor has doubled.
“If the ‘Big Donor Show’ had been real it would indeed have been shocking but these facts illustrate that the reality is far more so,” said Paul Romer, managing director of Endemol Netherlands. “In staging this program our goal has been to prompt a debate about this crisis in the Netherlands. We have succeeded in spades.”
Added Laurens Drillich, chairman of BNN: “We have been more successful than we could have hoped in starting a hugely important debate and we will ensure our viewers are kept informed about what impact this campaign has had.”
However, reaction to the show was mixed, with many MPs and patient groups still uncomfortable with the concept.
Tim Statham, chief executive of Britain’s National Kidney Federation, called the show an appalling idea, while Dutch MP Joop Atsma, who had called for the government to stop the show, said that he found the whole thing tasteless.
Dutch culture minister, Ronald Plasterk, on the other hand, said the show was an intelligent way to highlight the issue of donor shortage, and Caroline Klingers, a kidney patient who watched the show at a treatment center in the Netherlands, was also full of praise.
“I thought it was brilliant, really,” she said. “I know these transplant doctors, and I thought they’ll never go and actually do it. But it’s good for the publicity and there are no losers.”