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 www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88.

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