Saturday, March 13, 2010

Need an organ? Maybe you should move!

Geography plays a large role in allocating donated organs to patients in the United States. Under the allocation rules of the United Network for Organ Sharing, most organs are offered first to local patients. If no local patient needs an organ, it's then made available to patients elsewhere in the donor's geographic regions.

St. Louis University explains why this is important:

Recent studies have found that patients with similar diseases but living in different parts of the country had substantially different waiting times and waitlist mortality rates due to geographical differences in organ supply.

The resulting disparity can mean some patients will not have access to organ donations that could save their lives, says Krista Lentine, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine and lead researcher at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

"The geographic regions were established prior to the availability of modern systems of organ preservation and without anticipation of the current unevenly distributed organ supply-demand ratios across the country," said Lentine.
Supporters of UNOS allocation rules say that only medical criteria should be used in allocating organs. But if geography was ever a "medical" criterion it isn't any more.

Most people think organs should be given first to the people who need them the most. It's a nice thought, but that's not how the system works. As long as UNOS is going to use non-medical factors in allocating organs, it should use "donor status" as one of them. UNOS already moves live organ donors up the transplant waiting list if they later need a transplant. UNOS should do the same for people who register to donate their organs upon their death.

UNOS should establish two transplant waiting lists: the "A" list for registered donors, and the "B" list for non-donors. All organs should be offered first to donors on the "A" list. Non-donors on the "B" list can have any leftovers. This would save thousands of lives every year by creating an incentive for non-donors to become donors.

Only about 50% of adult Americans are registered organ donors. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year. That wouldn't happen if UNOS put organ donors first.

Join LifeSharers if you'd like to donate your organs to other organ donors. Your membership will increase your chances of getting a transplant should you ever need one. It's free. It could save your life.

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