A Dutch television show in which a terminally ill woman supposedly would donate her kidney to one of three contestants was revealed as a hoax.
At the last moment on Friday, presenter Patrick Lodiers of the Big Donor Show said the woman known as "Lisa" was an actress and was not actually dying of a brain tumor as claimed.
The entire exercise was intended to pressure the government into reforming its organ donation laws and raise public awareness of the need for organs, he said.
The three prospective recipients were real patients in need of transplants and had been in on the hoax, the show said.
The program had been widely criticized for being tasteless and unethical.
But Lodiers said it was "reality that was shocking" because around 200 people die annually in the Netherlands while waiting for a kidney and the average waiting time is more than four years -- more than in other European countries.
"I thought it was brilliant, really," said Caroline Klingers, a kidney patient who was watching the show at th. e Kidney Patients Organization headquarters in Bussum, Netherlands.
"I know these transplant doctors and I thought they'll never go and actually do it," she said. "But it's good for the publicity and there are no losers."
The Netherlands' doctors association had called on members not to participate in the program and questioned its authenticity.
"Given the large medical, psychological and legal uncertainties around this case, the [association] considers the chance extremely small that it will ever come to an organ transplant," it said.
The show was produced by Endemol, which created Big Brother in 1999, introducing the concept of reality TV.
Viewers were called on to vote for their favorite candidate by SMS text message during the show.
Earlier in the week, the Cabinet declined suggestions from lawmakers to ban the program, saying that would amount to censorship.
BNN had said "Lisa" had less than six months to live and would carry out the donation within a month of choosing a winner.
But doctors usually refuse to accept organ donations from terminally ill patients because the operation could hasten their death.
Additionally, under Dutch rules, donors must be friends, or preferably family, of the organ recipient.
Meeting on a television program wouldn't qualify.
But a spokeswoman for the Dutch doctor's association said that it was conceivable the transplant could have been carried out abroad.
"You can't rule that out," Saskia van der Ree said.
BNN spokeswoman Marieke Saly said earlier on Friday that all arrangements for the program were completed, but she declined to comment on where and when the donation would be carried out.