Wednesday, October 26, 2011

End the Shortage of Organs for Transplant

Organ transplants save thousands of lives every year, but many more people die because there aren't enough organs available. In the US, about 100,000 adults and children are waiting for organ transplants, and over 6,500 people die each year while waiting on a transplant list. Recent polls indicate that as many as 85% of Americans support organ donation, but only about 30% have formally expressed their willingness to donate.

Most states have opt-in programs via driver's license or state ID card applications. But with the continuing shortage of transplantable organs, some are suggesting a switch to an opt-out system (also called implied consent). With implied consent if people don't specifically opt-out, they will be considered potential organ donors upon their death. Opt-out systems are unnecessarily coercive in that they force people to make a choice or have that choice taken away from them and they don't take into account the wishes of the family. Another variation on the opt-out system is one where those who opt-out are also eliminating themselves from any consideration for a transplant should they need one sometime in the future. 

There's a much better solution. We can dramatically increase the number of available organs for transplant by paying for them. Why is it considered immoral to pay for an organ but it’s not immoral to pay the medical staff, the hospital, and the pharmaceutical companies that profit from transplants?

While there are legitimate moral concerns about turning living organs into a commodity, those concerns should be directed at protecting the living from being exploited for their organs.  Once someone is dead, there’s no reason why we can’t pay at least a small amount to their estate for any organs they donate.

How many Americans would donate their organs if they knew how little chance they had of getting on a transplant list in the first place? The medical community and the insurance companies want all the free organs they can get, but they’re certainly not allowing equal access to those donated organs. There are numerous ways that people are discriminated against when it comes to transplants, but the most common way is financial. You can’t get a transplant if you can’t pay. Even with very good insurance, the out of pocket costs of transplants, care after surgery, and years of immunosuppressant medications are beyond the reach of most Americans.

The idea that the organ transplant system is being operated fairly is a myth. We’ve all seen examples of famous people who managed to jump ahead of the line:. If you’re rich, or famous, or so poor you that get free health care, you might actually get a transplant. If you’re not, well you either won’t get on the list in the first place or you’ll die long before your number comes up. Increasing the number of available organs for transplant by paying for them will save many more lives and help make the system work a lot better for average people.

Another blog post by Ken Padgett
Ken Padgett on Facebook