Big Brother-Like TV show sparks big controversy in Holland 

Amin George Forji


Is it philanthropy or a corruption of bonne moeurs-public morality? These are the questions that the Dutch are quibbling amongst themselves following a recent 80 minutes controversial Big Brother-like TV contest show, called “The Big Donorshow”, due to be screened on Friday night, in which a 37-years old terminally ill woman would be choosing one of three other patients to receive both of her kidneys, with the active participation of viewers. The Dutch broadcaster, BNN says the aim of the show is to raise awareness on the acute shortage of essential organ donors in the country.

According to the format of the contest as highlighted by BNN, the 37-years old donor, simply called Lisa would make her final decision partially based on advice from the TV viewers through text messages , and also on the contestants’ own profile and history. During broadcasts, Lisa who is sick with an inoperable brain tumour will listen to the contestants for her kidneys being interviewed, with each talking about her life, family and friends. Viewers will vote the outstanding candidates, which Lisa will take into consideration while making the final decision.

But the programme has left the whole country unease, with everyone now talking about it. It is admired and hated in equal measure. The chairman of BNN broadcaster, Laurens Drillich admitted in a statement that although BNN knew from the very onset that the programme was most likely going to spark controversy, their decision to air it was nevertheless the better of the two hard choices.

“We know that this programme is super controversial and some people will think it’s tasteless, but we think the reality is even more shocking and tasteless: waiting for an organ is just like playing the lottery,” Said Laurens Drillich.
“We think that is disastrous, so we are acting in a shocking way to bring attention to this problem.” He added.

All the major political parties in Holland, and prominent political figures have called the show to be taken off the air, but BNN broadcaster says she must exercise her right of freedom of expression.

“It’s a crazy idea. It can’t be possible that, in the Netherlands, people vote about who’s getting a kidney,” Joop Atsma, of the ruling Christian Democrat Party was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The Dutch Donor Authoprity also condemned the idea in a statement as misguided and unacceptable.

“This is a scandal, it is no better than selling organs. They are taking advantage of people in a desperate situation for entertainment.” It’s spokesperson, Reiner Hofmann, said in a statement.

Professor John Feehally of the UK’s Renal Association corroborated the Dutch Donor Authority, saying the only thing the show will achieve is to cause confusion and anxiety.

“The set up of the programme bears no relationship to the way decisions are made about transplants in the real world. Living donors can choose altruistically to give one of their kidneys – usually to a family member. ” Feehally remarked.

The matter has now been dragged to parliament for parliamentarians to debate on whether the show violates the law. While addressing parliament on Wednesday, The Dutch education minister, Ronald Plasterk unequivocally blasted the show thus:

“The information I have right now tells me that the programme is unfitting and unethical, especially due to the competitive element, but it’s up to programme makers to make their choices.”

The protagonists of the show nevertheless found a proponent in the person of Alexander Pechtold, of the Dutch social liberal party.

“For years and years we have had problems in the Netherlands with organ donations and especially kidney donations,” Pechtold was quoted by the media as saying. “You can have a discussion about if this is distasteful, but finally we have a public debate,”

The main inspiration behind the show, Endemol NV who also happens to be the creator of Big Brothers has vowed that Lisa must give away her kidneys before she dies. The main reason advanced for the show is that Lisa’s wish to donate her kidneys to a particular candidate “wouldn’t be valid anymore after her death”.

BNN is particularly vocal in favour of the show because she has been a serious victim of shortage of body hormones in Holland. It’s former TV staion manager, Bart de Graaff, 35, died years back from kidney failure, while waiting on the waiting list. It’s current chairman, Laurens Drillich says “The chance for a kidney for the contestants is 33%. This is much higher than that for people on a waiting list.”

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