Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mandated choice in New Jersey?

According to a story in the Courier-Post, proposed legislation in New Jersey would require people applying for driver's licenses and identification cards to state whether they want to be an organ donor.

The bill "would require applicants to answer whether they want to become an organ donor. If they decide to do so, their donor status would appear on their license and be maintained in a state registry. If they're not ready to make a decision or uncomfortable sharing it, they would designate someone to make that decision on their behalf when the time comes. If someone doesn't want to be a donor, they would check off a box acknowledging that."

If someone doesn't want to be a donor, they should also check off a box acknowledging that their decision means they'll be put at the end of the the waiting list if they ever need a transplant. Almost nobody would refuse to register as an organ donor if they knew it would affect their future chances of getting a life-saving transplant.

Every year Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs, and every year about 8,000 Americans die because there aren't enough organs donated. Do the math.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Help LifeSharers win $50,000

America's Giving Challenge will award $50,000 to 4 U.S. charities that get donations from the most people by January 31, 2008. They'll also award $1,000 to 100 U.S. charities.

Please help LifeSharers by making a tax-deductible donation of $10 or more. Just click on the donation badge to the right.

You can also help by spreading the word about this effort. Our donation badge is at If you'd like to show our badge on your web site or blog, please email us at and we'll send you the information you need.

Thanks very much.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

LifeSharers Recruits 10,000th Organ Donor

Organ Donors Get Preferred Access to Organs through Innovative Network

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – November 8, 2007 – LifeSharers, the innovative organ donation network that helps people donate their organs to other organ donors, has attracted its 10,000th member. Membership in LifeSharers has grown by more than 53% in the last twelve months.


LifeSharers offers registered organ donors preferred access to donated organs.

LifeSharers members agree to donate their organs upon their death. They also agree to offer their organs first to other LifeSharers members, if any member is a suitable match, before offering them to non-members. In exchange, they get preferred access to the organs of other LifeSharers members. So, people who join LifeSharers increase their chances of getting a transplant should they ever need one.

"LifeSharers membership is a compelling investment in your future. It's free, and it could literally save your life,” says Bill Staton, Chairman of Staton Financial Advisors. “By joining LifeSharers you reduce the chance you'll die waiting if you ever need an organ transplant."

There are over 98,000 people on the transplant waiting list in the United States. More than half of them will die before they get a transplant.


LifeSharers helps correct an inequity in the organ allocation system, which gives about half of all organs to people who are not registered organ donors.

Katrina A. Bramstedt, Clinical Ethicist at California Pacific Medical Center, says "Signing up for organ donation is a social contract. In the case of organ scarcity it is appropriate to favor fellow organ donors over free riders. When it is time to allocate a scarce resource, it is fair to assign priority to people who are willing to both give and receive."

Only about 50% of adult Americans have agreed to donate their organs when they die, but just about 100% would agree to accept an organ transplant if they needed one to live. This is one of the biggest reasons there is such a large shortage of transplantable organs.

The organ shortage grows larger every year. Last year over 48,000 people were added to the national transplant waiting list every year, but only 29,000 people received transplants.


Every year about 8,000 Americans die because they couldn’t get an organ transplant, and every year Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs.

Professor Steve Calandrillo of the University of Washington Law School notes that “Thousands of people are dying needlessly every year -- not because life-saving organs don't exist, but because we don't incent people properly to make them available in the first place. LifeSharers is helping to fix that."


By giving registered organ donors preferred access to their organs, LifeSharers members create an incentive for non-donors to become donors.

“We offer people a great trade – if you’ll agree to donate your organs through LifeSharers after you die, we’ll increase your chances of getting a transplant should you ever need one to live,” says David Undis, Executive Director of LifeSharers. “This could literally save your life, since most people who need an organ transplant die before they get one.”

"Those who are willing to give should be the first to receive,” says Alexander Tabarrok, Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University. “LifeSharers makes this idea a reality. If enough people join LifeSharers, we could even have a surplus of organs."


LifeSharers members use a process called directed donation to offer their organs first to other members. Directed donation as practiced by LifeSharers members is legal in all 50 states and under federal law.

LifeSharers membership is free and open to all at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, and parents can enroll their minor children. No one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

LifeSharers members receive an organ donor card, letters to share with family members and doctors, and language to attach to their durable power of attorney for healthcare. Professor Gerry Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law, an expert in wills and estate planning, helped design these materials.

About LifeSharers

LifeSharers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit network of organ donors. Membership in LifeSharers is free and open to all. LifeSharers does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, physical handicap, health status, marital status, or economic status.

LifeSharers members include doctors, nurses, bioethicists, teachers, students, members of the clergy, and members of our armed forces.

About 10% of LifeSharers members are minor children enrolled by their parents.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

"Legally binding" organ donation?

North Carolina will soon become the 45th state to make signing up to be an organ donor legally binding, according to a story in the Charlotte Observer:

"A new law, which takes effect Oct. 1, makes a driver's decision to be an organ donor, designated by a red heart on a driver's license, legally binding. Gov. Mike Easley signed the bill Friday. In the past, the red heart indicated the driver's intention to be a donor, but it could be overturned by the owner's family. Under the new law, a family member's permission will not be needed to carry out wishes conveyed on driver's licenses."

It will be interesting to see if North Carolina enforces its new law. None of the other 44 states with similar laws enforce them. Families are routinely asked for permission to transplant organs from deceased relatives. These families refuse permission about 50% of the time.

In the United States you can stop a relative's organs from being donated, and you can refuse to donate your own organs, but still remain eligible for an organ transplant should you ever need one. This is not fair, and it's one of the biggest reasons there is such a large organ shortage in the United States.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Who shall be saved?

Dr. Sally Satel has a very thoughtful piece in the August-September 2007 issue of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review.

Dr. Satel attended a forum on proposed revisions to UNOS kidney allocation rules. The proposed new rules are an attempt to maximize "Life Years from Transplant", which would mean older patients would get fewer kidneys. This prompted one attendee to say "That’s playing God and people aren’t going to like it.”

Dr. Satel writes: "That is not playing God; that is playing man — the all-too-human affair of people deliberating strenuously and in good faith to determine what is right." She goes on to describe the dilemma caused by the shortage of transplantable organs: "It is the eternal tradeoff that comes with medical rationing: individual versus societal benefit. Who will be saved?"

If there was no shortage of organs, everyone would be saved. There would be no need to decide who to save. Until then, we should decide to save registered organ donors first. Why? Because that will cause more people to register as organ donors, which will increase the supply of organs and save more lives. It will also mean we will face fewer decisions about who to save.

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Ending the black market for human organs

Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health has an excellent piece in the New York Post on August 6th. He points out that the shortage of human organs for transplant operations has led to a macabre black market, and argues that a regulated system of incentives for donors would save lives and reduce the shortage that promotes the black market.

One of the incentives he mentions is Alex Tabarrok's "no give, no take" rule. LifeSharers is a variation of this idea. Alex Tabarrok is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Research Director at The Independent Institute, co-author of the Marginal Revolution blog, and an advisor to LifeSharers.

Mr. Stier also writes: "Unless you're lucky enough to have a relative or some other highly motivated and altruistic donor, there is no legal way to improve your chances in the painfully slow race against death." This was true before LifeSharers came along, but it isn't any more. By joining LifeSharers you get preferred access to the organs of other members, so you improve your chances of getting a transplant should you ever need one.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kidney donation chain

The Arizona Republic highlighted America's first kidney donation chain in a July 22 story:

A chain of small miracles started in Phoenix last week.

It began when a Michigan man decided to donate one of his kidneys to a person he had never met.

His decision means a Phoenix woman will be able to watch her grandchildren grow up. But it does not stop there. Now the Phoenix woman's husband will donate one of his kidneys to a perfect stranger. That woman's best friend will then do the same. And so on and so on.

Eventually eight people, and possibly far more, will be saved because of the marriage of good will and medical technology.

This kidney chain - the first of its kind - is possible because of a new type of organ donation called a paired donation.

It happens when someone who needs a kidney has a person who is willing to donate one, but their body chemistry prevents a good match.

In a paired donation, those two people will be connected with two other people in the same situation.

Each healthy person then donates a kidney to someone who needs it.

The only unusual thing is that the donors are helping strangers directly in order to indirectly help the person they love.

Some people have been concerned that paired donations violate the National Organ Transplant Act's prohibition against donation for "valuable consideration" because they involve donation of a kidney in exchange for another kidney. President Bush is expected to soon sign legislation clarifying that these types of organ donations are legal.

The existence of paired donations provides further proof that altruism is not the only reason people donate organs. Some people say altruism should be the only reason people donate. If this attitude was turned into law it would kill people.

If you needed an organ transplant, would you care why your donor donated? Or would you just be glad they did?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Presumed consent

In England, the Chief Medical Officer has recommended implementing an "opt-out" organ donation system. This is also known as presumed consent. Under this system, everybody is presumed to consent to the donation of their organs when they die. Anyone can fill out a form saying they don't want to donate.

If this system was implemented in the United States, the supply of organs for transplant operations would increase significantly. According to polls, about 90% of Americans support organ donation but only about 50% have bothered to register. If everybody was automatically registered, few people would bother to un-register.

Presumed consent can only be implemented in the United States through legislative action -- Congress would have to pass a law. The chances of this happening in the foreseeable future are somewhere between very slim and none, because there is wide-spread opposition to the idea of presumed consent.

This underlines the importance of the grass-roots approach of LifeSharers. You don't need Congressional action to join LifeSharers and donate your organs to other organ donors. When you donate your organs to other organ donors you create an incentive for non-donors to become donors, you make the transplant system fairer, and you increase your own chances of getting a transplant should you ever need one.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

LifeSharers in TIME Magazine

TIME Magazine has a story about LifeSharers in its current issue.

The story says Dr. David Landry, a nephrologist at Columbia University, "points out there are people who consciously don't register for organ donation for religious and other reasons, and it would be unfair to press them on their beliefs." If we are supposed to respect these people's reasons for not donating to us, shouldn't those people respect our reasons for donating to people who will return the favor? Are we supposed to respect their beliefs while they object to ours?

The story also quotes Elisa Gordon, a bioethics professor at Albany Medical College in New York State. "No other patients seeking medical treatment are required to give back anything beyond money for the costs of treatment," Gordon says. But organ transplants are a unique medical treatment -- it's illegal to pay people for their organs so there are no organ transplants without organ donations. As long as we have to rely on donated organs, it makes sense to give organs first to organ donors.

The story also incorrectly says LifeSharers members pledge to donate their organs "only to other members". This is not true. We pledge to donate first to other members. The last thing we want is for our organs to go to waste, so if no member needs an organ from a LifeSharers member, the organ is offered to non-members.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

How many Americans are registered organ donors?

Reuters reports that according to a recent poll by Harris Interactive, half of the adults in the United States say they have registered as an organ donor.

Humphrey Taylor, chairman of Harris Interactive, said he is not totally convinced by the poll's figures: "We know that when we do surveys like this, more people claim to have done the right thing than do the right thing. I think if half of all U.S adults really had registered, we would be in much better shape than we are, so I am skeptical on those numbers."

It's too bad the poll didn't ask those who said they had not registered as organ donors two more questions: "Would you be willing to accept an organ transplant should you ever need one?" and "Why on earth should anyone donate an organ to you if you're not willing to return the favor?"

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Should age determine who gets a kidney transplant?

Should age determine who gets a kidney transplant? That's the question asked by the Chicago Tribune in a story about the United Network for Organ Sharing's proposed changes to the rules it uses to allocate kidneys recovered from deceased donors.

UNOS has proposed allocating kidneys in a way that would maximize the number of extra years lived by kidney transplant recipients.

Does it make sense to give a kidney to a 75-year-old person with a limited life expectancy when you could give it to a 35-year-old person who is likely to live a whole lot longer? Reasonable people will disagree on this question.

UNOS' proposal is controversial. But any change to UNOS' rules will be controversial, because any change will mean more transplants for some groups and fewer transplants for others.

So why not change organ allocation rules in a way that will increase the number of organs donated? Allocating fewer organs to old people won't increase the number of organ donors. Allocating fewer organs to non-donors will.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Organs for Organ Donors in Israel?

The transplant law in Israel may be changed to put registered organ donors first on the transplant waiting list. Dr. Yaakov Lavi tells the story at

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Monday, January 08, 2007

LifeSharers on The Adam Carolla Show

I was a guest on The Adam Carolla Show this morning. Click here to listen.

Adam Carolla is a comedian, and his show may seem to be an unlikely forum for talking about organ donation. But LifeSharers got more new members today than we've gotten from all of the other radio shows I've appeared on in five years.

Thanks very much to Adam and his crew.

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