Thursday, March 25, 2004

Misconceptions about LifeSharers

Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch contains a nice article about LifeSharers. The article repeats some misconceptions about LifeSharers:

(1) Bioethicist Laura Siminoff of Case Western Reserve University says LifeSharers members are "double-dippers" who opt out of the national organ donation system. That's just not true. LifeSharers members direct that each of their organs be offered first to the fellow member on the national waiting list who is the best match for each organ. Non-members can have our organs if no member is a suitable match. The real "double-dippers" are the people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die. They get 70% of the organs transplanted in the United States. (Ms. Siminoff's statement that LifeSharers members "expect the government to pick up the tab for procuring, testing, matching and transplanting organs when they need them" is puzzling. These costs are typically picked up by transplant recipients and their insurance companies, not by the federal government.)

(2) Mark Fox of UNOS says LifeSharers undermines the existing allocation system by creating an open system in which its members accept organs from anyone while preferentially restricting donation to its members. But the real "underminers" are people who will accept an organ transplant but refuse to donate their own organs. In Dr. Fox's language, they create an open system in which they accept organs from anyone while refusing to donate at all. UNOS would be better served criticizing these people. LifeSharers doesn't undermine the system. LifeSharers improves the system by increasing the number of donors and by making the system more fair.

(3) "Federal officials" say an organ procurement organization would violate federal regulations if it honored a LifeSharers member's request to offer their organs first to fellow members. This is not true. Federal law recognizes and respects a person's right to direct their organ donation to individuals of their choosing. So does state law in all 50 states.

(4) Ms. Siminoff says LifeSharers would have to sign up just about everybody in the country to make a difference. We've already made a difference by recruiting over 2,100 organ donors. At our current membership level, there is a 10% chance that one of more of our members will actually donate their organs in the next 12 months. She also says that once LifeSharers did sign up just about everybody in the country "you wouldn't need it." Finally she's correct about something. If just about everybody in the country signed an organ donor card then we wouldn't need LifeSharers.

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