ORGAN DONATION: Fight Between HHS and UNOS Escalates
"Faced with strong criticism over [the Clinton Administration's] plan to revamp the nation's system for distributing donated organs," Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala sent a letter to members of Congress insisting she will press ahead with the department's new policy. Shalala she harshly criticized the United Network for Organ Sharing, the private organization that contracts with the government to distribute organs, for attempting to derail the policy. In "two letters dated June 1 and made public today by" Shalala, HHS responded to 181 letters of inquiry by members of Congress that question the controversial new policy (Stolberg, New York Times, 6/3). The action began in April, when House Appropriations Chair Bob Livingston (R-LA), in response to the tumult surrounding the decision to distribute organs nationally rather than locally, added language to a bill to "delay the comment period on the regulation from June 1 to August 31, and the effective date from Aug. 1 to 'no earlier than Oct. 1, 1998.'"
Two Sides To Every Story
UNOS charged that the new organ allocation plan would in fact result in fewer patients getting organs, as smaller donation facilities would go out of business and valuable organs would go to sicker patients with less chance to live. CongressDaily reports that "UNOS's website [www.unos.org] includes sample letters to Congress and urges patients, physicians and other members of the transplant community to write to urge Congress to block the new rules." A sample letter argues: "Instead of fixing the underlying organ supply problem, the department's regulations will result in fewer patients being offered a life-saving transplant than under the current system." In her letter, Shalala accused UNOS of embarking "on a misleading lobbying campaign that has confused the public and caused fear among transplant patients and their families." She pointed out that wait times can vary as much as fivefold between different regions of the country and that sick patients are often ignored for too long (Rovner, 6/3). In a separate letter to UNOS President Dr. Lawrence Hunsicker, Health Resources and Services Administrator Dr. Claude Earl Fox wrote: "Your response reflects a disappointing strategy of fostering conflict rather than cooperation. UNOS has lobbied to block the rule in a campaign not grounded in truth." Walter Graham, the organization's chair, however, said that he believes HHS's policy would cost lives. "He said the network's executive committee would meet next Monday with Dr. Fox to 'discuss our reasonable differences'" (Times, 6/3).