Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should need govern who gets transplants?

An editorial about LifeSharers in today's Greensboro News & Record is titled: "Need should govern who gets transplants".

It's a nice theory, but that's not how it works in the real world. Organs are allocated based on value judgments that often override need. When the next organ becomes available in the United States, it won't be given to the person who needs it most. Instead, it will be given to the person on the waiting list who scores highest on a complex formula that includes things like age, location, race, and time spent waiting, as well as need. People who can't afford to pay for a transplant never even get on the waiting list. So it's not fair to criticize LifeSharers members for not giving their organs to the people who need them the most.

If you give organs first to registered organ donors, you get more registered organ donors. That saves more lives. Shouldn't saving the maximum number of lives be the goal of our transplant system? Anyone who wants to help achieve this goal by donating their organs to fellow organ donors is welcome to join LifeSharers at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88.

The editorial also suggests that LifeSharers members not receive organs from non-members. Let's apply this logic to the group I call LifeHoarders. Members of this group, which includes half of the adult population in the United States, haven't agreed to donate their organs when they die. Why not say that LifeHoarders can get organs only from other LifeHoarders? In other words, why not say that people who haven't agreed to donate can only get organs from other people who haven't agreed to donate? It's actually a great idea. If it was the law of the land, everyone would agree to donate, thousands of lives would be saved every year, and there would be no need for LifeSharers.

The editorial also draws an analogy between blood donation and organ donation, saying that it's a good thing blood isn't given only to blood donors. It's a bad analogy. There is no national blood waiting list or blood allocation system, and there aren't thousands of people dying every year because of blood shortages. In any event, LifeSharers has never suggested blood be handled the same way as organs.

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