Saturday, June 12, 2010

The shameful need for live organ donors

A man who agreed to donate part of his liver to help a sick relative died while undergoing the transplant procedure at Lahey Clinic near Boston two weeks ago, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

The generosity of live organ donors is spectacular. Imagine having a piece of your body cut out to save the life of a relative, a friend, or someone you don't even know.

It's shameful that America needs so many live organ donors. We wouldn't need so many of these incredibly brave people if Americans weren't burying or cremating 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

In the United States, about half of the people who can donate their organs after death do donate them. The other half don't. What an awful waste! Every transplantable kidney or liver that is buried or cremated means another person dies or another live donor goes under the knife.

Would people still refuse to donate their organs if affected their ability to receive an organ? Or would more people donate if it increased their chances of getting an organ if they needed one? These questions answer themselves.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the national transplant waiting list, moves live organ donors up the waiting list if they need a transplant later in life. This is a good thing to do. It's fair, and it increases the number of people who are willing to donate.

UNOS should do the same thing for people who agree to donate their organs after death. It would make the organ allocation system fairer. Currently, about half of the organs transplanted in the United States are given to people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die. More importantly, giving organs first to registered organ donors would increase the number of donated organs. It would save more lives, and it would reduce the need for live organ donors.

UNOS has the ability to make this common-sense change to its organ allocation rules. They should make this change immediately. If they made this change today, they'd save thousands of lives next year, the year after that, and every year after that one.

Americans who want to donate their organs to other organ donors don't have to wait for UNOS to act. They can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 13,900 members, including members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

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