Monday, December 11, 2006

LifeSharers on ABC

ABC aired a story about LifeSharers on December 9, 2006, on their "ABC World News Saturday" program. Click on the video to watch it:

You can also watch the video here.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

The most heart-warming organ donation story ever?

If there is a more heart-warming story about organ donation than this one, I haven't read it:

"Love works in mysterious and wonderful ways.

Cheryl Cottle was devastated when she lost her husband, Terry, who died in 1995 at age 33.

But Terry's heart was donated for an organ transplant, and so his death saved another man's life.

And the mysterious ways of love?

Terry's heart still beats inside Sonny Graham, the man Cheryl ended up marrying nine years later."

You can read the whole story here in the Hilton Head Island Packet, or here in The State.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why be an organ donor?

In a North Shore Sunday column, Daniel B. Kline writes: "What I can't understand is the millions of people who support organ donation, but aren't donors. Maybe they forget, maybe they just can't be bothered..."

I think he's right about the reasons. The vast majority of people don't have any good reason for not signing up as organ donors. On the other hand, there's no down side to delaying or forgetting.

The biggest reason to sign up as an organ donor is the chance to help others. Sadly, that's not enough of a motivator for a whole lot of people. So every year, thousands of organs that could have saved lives are buried or cremated instead.

With LifeSharers, there's another reason to sign up as an organ donor -- the chance to help yourself. You give up your organs after you're dead, and you get a better chance of receiving an organ if you ever need one to live.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

A federal organ grab without consent?

Sigfrid Fry-Revere of the Cato Institute writes in the New York Post on November 2nd:

...the Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation is expected to recommend that states adopt policies of "presumed consent" for organ donation.

In other words, authorities could harvest organs from your dead body without prior permission from you or your family.

If the government is really concerned with getting donor organs, it shouldn't rationalize stealing them, it should amend the National Organ Transplant Act to give people incentives for donating them.

The situation is dire. Some 93,000 Americans are now on the list to receive donated organs; last year, fewer than half got them. Twenty Americans die every day waiting for an organ that never comes.

No one seems to doubt that paying people to donate their organs after they die would dramatically increase the number of organs available - but government bodies hesitate to allow it.

Presumed consent would increase the number of organs available for transplantation. So would paying people for their organs. But neither of these is legal, and it's extremely unlikely that either will be legalized in the forseeable future. Both are total non-starters from a political standpoint because both face substantial nationwide opposition.

The LifeSharers incentive is already legal. It is also less controversial than paying for organs or taking them without consent.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rationing life

Today's Los Angeles Times has a story about the agonizing decisions surgeons and hospitals have to make in allocating kidneys for transplant operations. These decisions can mean life or death for patients -- life for the patient who gets the kidney, and death for the one who doesn't.

Many of these decisions would be unnecessary if Americans weren't burying or cremating 10,000 transplantable kidneys every year. What can be done about this? The United Network for Organ Sharing, which sets national organ allocation rules, has the power to make a simple policy change that would eliminate most of this horrific waste of life-saving organs.

UNOS should announce that it will move registered organ donors to the front of the transplant waiting list, and that it will move those who are not registered to the back.

This announcement would cause millions of Americans to register as organ donors. Given that most people on the transplant waiting list die waiting, the vast majority of Americans would decide that registering is a good idea. Almost everyone in the United States supports organ donation, but most people haven't registered. UNOS can provide the kick in the pants that many Americans apparently need.

According to the Los Angeles Times, over the last decade the number of people waiting for kidneys nationwide has more than doubled to about 68,500 and could reach 100,000 by 2010. If UNOS put registered organ donors first on the waiting list it could save thousands of lives every year. How many more people will die needlessly before UNOS makes this simple policy change?

In the mean time, LifeSharers offers Americans the opportunity to donate their organs to other registered organ donors. Please tell your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues about LifeSharers. You could save someone's life, and the life you save could be your own or someone very dear to you.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

More Hawaii families are saying 'no' to organ donation

A story by Honolulu TV station KHNL reports a very disturbing trend: organ donation rates are dropping in Hawaii because families are refusing to allow transplantation of organs from registered organ donors.

According to the story, last year "only 55% of the potential donors actually became donors because family members agreed to allow their loved ones organs to be donated." But it gets even worse: "So far this year only 40% of potential organ donations actually went through because 25 families decided not to give consent even though the donor intended to."

The decisions these families made prevented about 75 transplants, since the average deceased organ donor contributes about 3 organs. So about 75 people will die or suffer needlessly.

It's outrageous to stop a relative's organs from being donated when you know that your relative wanted to be a donor. It's also outrageous that transplant and law enforcement professionals allow this to happen. Under Hawaii's anatomical gift law, "an anatomical gift that is not revoked by the donor before death is irrevocable and does not require the consent or concurrence of any person after the donor's death." (See Hawaii Revised Statutes chapter 327-2(h).) Just about every other state has a similar provision in its anatomical gift statute.

By the way, if you prevent a relative's organs from being transplanted you will remain eligible for a transplant if you ever need one. That's perhaps the most outrageous thing of all.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

L.A. Times criticizes transplant system oversight

An investigative report published by the Los Angeles Times on October 22nd criticizes the United Network for Organ Sharing. UNOS operates the national organ allocation system in the United States. According to the report, UNOS "often fails to detect or decisively fix problems at derelict hospitals — even when patients are dying at excessive rates." The report describes what it calls a "national pattern of uneven and often weak oversight" and says that at times UNOS "appears more intent on protecting hospitals than patients."

We can expect calls for improved oversight of compliance with UNOS policies. But those policies themselves also need improvement. Specifically, UNOS should allocate organs first to registered organ donors. This simple policy change would cause a large increase in the number of organs available for transplantation in the United States, and thousands of lives would be saved every year.

Problems at transplant hospitals would also be easier to spot if there were more organs to transplant.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Washington Post editorial endorses idea behind LifeSharers

In an editorial today, the Washington Post says it's time to consider extra incentives to encourage more people to donate their organs when they die. One of the incentives it suggests sounds a lot like LifeSharers.

Among other incentives, the editorial suggests this: "The decision to pledge organs could be linked to the chance of receiving one: People who check the box on the driver's-license application when they are healthy would, if they later fell sick, get extra points in the system used to assign their position on the transplant waiting list."

This is the idea behind LifeSharers, although the details are different. The Washington Post says their suggested incentives "don't raise significant ethical issues" and "would save money and relieve suffering."

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Monday, September 25, 2006

LifeSharers on CNN

CNN aired a story about LifeSharers on September 17, 2006. Click on the video to watch it:

Bryan Stewart of OneLegacy, the organ procurement organization in southern California, said a couple of interesting things in the story.

First, Mr. Stewart said "any time you work outside of the established allocation process, you're not necessarily giving the organs to people that are most in need." This statement is true, but it is misleading. It implies that the established allocation process gives organs to people that are most in need. But that process often bypasses the person most in need. That process takes several factors into account when allocating organs, and need is only one of them.

Next, Mr. Stewart said "the likelihood that someone in LifeSharers is going to benefit from a donor that is part of LifeSharers is extremely low." Is this statement true? It depends on what you mean by "extremely low." At our current membership level, there is about a 25% chance that one or more LifeSharers members will die and become an organ donor within the next 12 months. Will any of the organs donated be a suitable match for any LifeSharers member who needs a transplant? That's impossible to know, but there are currently over 30 LifeSharers members on the national transplant waiting list so it seems likely that at least one suitable match will be found.

Whatever the odds are, it's important to keep in mind that the odds keep growing as the number of LifeSharers members increases. Statistically speaking, it's a virtual certainty that sooner or later a LifeSharers member will recieve an organ donated by another LifeSharers member. It's just a matter of time. When it happens, we expect lots of publicity and a huge number of new members.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

LifeSharers is not discriminatory

A story about LifeSharers in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram is titled "Organ donation club called discriminatory".

Anyone can join LifeSharers. Membership is free. We welcome everyone, and we turn no one away. Can someone please tell me what is discriminatory about that?

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A good idea from Canada

Here is an excerpt from Peter Duffy's column today in the Chronicle Herald in Halifax:

"A reader named Jeff Whitman has a suggestion to increase organ donations.

He has a very simple idea. Essentially, Jeff feels those who think of others by signing a donor card should get priority if, heaven forbid, they ever need a transplant while they’re alive.

Why, he wondered, should those who refuse to be donors be allowed to be recipients?

That’s not fair, he argued. 'Those of us who sign cards should be first in line if we need a transplant.'

I told Jeff I thought it was an outrageous, unthinkable, mad idea and that it just might work."

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Monday, March 20, 2006

More education won't reduce the organ shortage

In an editorial yesterday, the Mankato Free Press mentions "giving organ donors priority status on the national waiting list" as a way to entice people to donate organs.

The editorial continued by saying that "it would make more sense to educate people about the benefits [of organ donation] and hope they can make an informed decision." Actually, education would not make more sense. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent on educational efforts designed to increase organ donation rates, but the organ shortage continues to get bigger every year.

Bioethics Arthur Caplan puts it really well. In his bioethics column for MSNBC, he wrote: "Americans are well aware of organ donation. Public education campaigns have been letting people know about the 'Gift of Life' for 30 years. One more pamphlet at the office or a few more minutes in drivers ed is not going to boost the percentage of people who sign donor cards beyond what has already been achieved through concerted public education efforts."

More of the same is not the answer. For the sake of the 91,000 Americans now waiting for transplants, we should try something new. How about giving organ donors priority status on the national waiting list? That's what LifeSharers does.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Do Americans think the organ allocation system is fair?

The Coalition on Donation surveyed 4,500 Americans on organ donation issues in 2005. According to an article about the survey in the January-February issue of UNOS Update, "80% of respondents question the fairness of the organ allocation system."

This is a staggering figure, and it may help explain why organ donation rates remain as low as they are. The article on the survey didn't explain why people question the fairness of the system. It would be interesting to find out why. I know a lot of people think celebrities (Mickey Mantle, for example) get special treatment, and that may have something to do with it.

Would more people trust the organ allocation system if organs were given first to registered organ donors? I think they would.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Organs from death row inmates?

In an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 15th, Claude Lewis suggests that an inmate facing a death sentence be allowed to donate a major organ in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Mr. Lewis says his plan could yield hundreds of organs. He's probably right. But it's extremely unlikely his plan will ever be implemented. The legal hurdles are just too high.

As Mr. Lewis eloquently writes, "it is no small irony that while thousands of Americans die needlessly each year because they lack the requisite organs, others go to their deaths carrying off healthy organs needed to sustain life." This situation is not, of course, confined to prisons. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

LifeSharers is trying to stop this waste, by giving people a good reason to donate their organs when they die -- a better chance of getting a transplant if they ever need one to live. If the United Network for Organ Sharing, which runs the national organ allocation system, adopted the LifeSharers approach it could yield about 20,000 organs every year.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

To ensure everyone can receive a transplant?

On March 15, WCCO TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul aired a story about LifeSharers.

A spokesperson for LifeSource (the local organ procurement organization) said LifeSharers "could create a class of people that would have priority for transplants." That's the whole point of LifeSharers! Can anyone name the "class" LifeSharers creates? If you said "registered organ donors" give yourself a big pat on the back. Registered organ donors should have priority for transplants. And by the way, everyone can join the class LifeSharers creates. Membership is free.

The LifeSource spokesperson went on to say that the organ allocation system "as it is now, is founded on principles of equity to ensure everyone in need can receive a life-saving transplant." This is just too much. One of the system's "principles of equity" is that when deciding who gets the next organ, registered organ donors should be treated no better than people who refuse to donate their organs. That is one strange principle of equity.

It's even stranger to say the system ensures that everyone in need can receive a life-saving transplant. It does exactly the opposite. More than half of the people who need transplants in the United States will die before they get one. Three years ago, the President-Elect of UNOS (the organization that runs the allocation system) called the transplant waiting list "the waiting to die list."

If "the system" allocated organs first to registered organ donors it would produce more registered organ donors -- and save thousands of lives every year. If you want your organs to go to other registered organ donors, please join LifeSharers. Membership is free and open to all at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88.

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