ORGAN SHARING: House Vote Sides with UNOS
On a 275-147 vote, the House yesterday approved legislation that would strip HHS's authority to decide how organs are distributed across the country, transferring the power instead to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the Washington Post reports. Two years ago, the Clinton administration had directed UNOS to assign organs on the basis of need rather than geography. The new rules touched off a "bitter turf battle" in which smaller organ transplant centers fear they would lose economic viability if organs are siphoned off to other regions. UNOS -- headquartered in Richmond, Va., a district of major backer of the legislation Rep. Thomas Bliley (R) -- opposed the new rules.
Stripping HHS Authority
Proponents of yesterday's House-passed legislation maintain that the "government has botched its effort to adopt a more national system for sharing organs" and argue that the current geography- based system is better. An opponent to the legislation, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said the bill "is founded on deceit, misrepresentation and falsehood by a rather shoddy, shabby, contractor who seeks an absolute monopoly over the handling of organs in this nation (Eilperin, 4/5). But bill sponsor Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) argued, "Do we want the government determining life-and-death matters? I think not" (Cimons, Los Angeles Times, 4/5). Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) turned criticism toward HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, saying that she "is trying to federalize the organ donation system and reduce us to the lowest common denominator, which would do harm to the entire organ donation system" (Washington Post, 4/5). UNOS Executive Director Walter Graham said that he was pleased by the House vote, but added, "We want to work cooperatively with HHS no matter what. We want to find the best policy that does the best for the patients" (Hostetler, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/5).
Jeers, But Hope?
Shalala blasted the House vote, saying that the chamber had "closed its eyes ... to the goal of fairness and the needs of patients" (Los Angeles Times, 4/5). President Clinton's advisers have recommended that he veto the bill because they said it "would preserve existing inequities in the ... system, and could result in potential harm to patients" (Schmitt, New York Times, 4/5). Because the House "failed to achieve a veto-proof majority," critics are hopeful that some kind of compromise will arise. Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) are working on a new plan (Washington Post, 4/5). Expected to be introduced in the Senate today, the bill calls for a commission made up of federal authorities, UNOS and an independent medical institute to set policy (New York Times, 4/5).