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New Organ Transplant Rules Help Sickest Patients

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A network committee considered several plans for the broader sharing of organs, as requested by HHS, but finally concluded that none of those plans would save a substantial number of lives, explains Richard Freeman, MD, a liver surgeon at Tuffs University who chaired the committee.

"It is possible to transport livers, but as you do that, there is a higher rate of organ failures, higher rate of re-transplants, and a higher rate of deaths after the transplants," he tells WebMD. The IOM review also failed to account for all the patients on the waiting list, analyze the performance of different organ procurement organizations, and address the availability of donors, among other things, Freeman says.

Still, HHS officials hope that the new listing criteria will now eventually help break down those regional restrictions.

"I think that the liver committee and the board has made a significant effort to come up with a revised system, and we are very encouraged by what they have done," Lynn Rothberg Wegman, MPA, director of the Division of Transplantation at HHS, tells WebMD. "We hope that they will continue to review and evaluate their policy to allow for broader sharing," she says.

But regional borders are only part of the problem, Joel Newman, a spokesman for UNOS, assures WebMD. A larger part of the problem is public awareness, he says.

Of the 15,000-20,000 potential liver donors in America, only about a third ever donate their organ, he points out. If more people were to proactively prepare for organ donations, "it would go a long way toward solving the problem," he tells WebMD.

At present, there are about 16,000 Americans waiting for a liver. In 1999, the latest year for which full figures are available, there were about 4,700 transplants performed. But during the same time period, more than 1,700 patients died because a liver could not be found in time.

 

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