UNOS Recommends Study of Cash Incentives to Promote Organ Donation
The United Network for Organ Sharing, the agency that manages the national organ transplant system, yesterday voted to lobby Congress for studies examining the possibility of offering financial incentives for cadaver organ donations, the Washington Times reports (Salai, Washington Times, 6/28). UNOS' decision comes after the American Medical Association last week voted to support studies that will determine whether paying money for donated organs could help reduce the nationwide organ shortage American Health Line, 6/24). "We haven't discussed yet how the program would be implemented. We're simply acknowledging that congressional action is required to move forward," UNOS spokesperson Anne Paschke said. In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act, which bans the sale of organs and human tissue, over concerns that allowing the sale of body parts would create an unfair system in which only wealthy people would be able to afford transplants. Allowing the use of incentives for organ donation still raises concerns for some health experts. Association of American Physicians and Surgeons Executive Director Dr. Jane Orient said that paying relatives for organs would "exacerbate" the problem of a "worldwide black market" for purchasing organs from living donors and would give people "the incentive to pull the plug on a relative whose death is not truly inevitable" (Salai, Washington Times, 6/28).
Meanwhile, Mid-America Transplant Services, the agency responsible for collecting, preserving and distributing organs in Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas, received a waiver from federal rules to implement an organ donation program that would allow patients waiting for a kidney to move up on the waiting list if their friends or family donate a kidney, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. A separate system would allow transplant patients who bring a live donor into the system to receive a kidney from the pool of organs from live donors. Patients would only be allowed to move up the waiting list once. MTS President and CEO Dean Kappel said that the program offers "an opportunity to families that, in the past, couldn't donate because the most appropriate candidate wasn't in the right blood group." The change, which will be implemented immediately, also "could help" minority transplant patients by finding eligible donors outside the patient's immediate family. Although the MTS initiative has received "widespread support" from local and regional transplant professionals, some physicians raised concerns that the change could "unfairly bump" patients who have waited longer for transplants from the top of the list (Shelton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6/27).
In related news, the Denver Post reports that making organ donations public "poses a problem and an opportunity" for organ donor organizations. Many families of organ donors often "boas[t]" about the donation and organ recipients "recovering in the hospital may pick up on it," Nikki Wheeler, a spokesperson for the Colorado Donor Alliance, said. Although demand for organs has become "bigger than ever" and publicity can help increase the supply, organ donor organizations hope to "shield organ recipients from information they may not be ready to hear," such as from whom their organs came. However, meetings between the families of organ donors and donor recipients have "become more common" in the past years as a result of increased publicity, Patricia Brewster, CEO of the Colorado Donor Alliance, said. The meetings can help take the "edge off" the loss of a family member and allow families to "know that ... something good can come of it," according to Jennifer Ballentine, whose 11-year-old daughter died in a car accident and donated five of her organs. Wheeler added, "We don't ever want to push families to tell their stories. But sometimes they think it will help them in the healing process" (Sherry, Denver Post, 6/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.