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New Ways to Attract Organ Donors

Panel Calls for Revised CPR Methods to Increase Organ Donations
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 2, 2006 -- A government panel called on American hospitals and emergency medical responders to revamp their resuscitation procedures as a way to preserve more organs for transplants.

The recommendation comes amid a widening shortage of transplantable organs that many experts have branded a crisis. Demand for transplantable organs has far exceeded the rate of transplant donations over the last decade.

Just over 28,000 organs were donated last year, far from the number needed to treat the more than 98,000 people waiting on lists for transplants as of Tuesday, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Longer life expectancy means that more Americans survive long enough to see their organs give out. Skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes put far more people than before at risk for organ failure.

New CPR Methods

The shortage has left policy makers searching for ways to boost donations among a largely reluctant American public.

Experts from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said Tuesday that emergency responders should change resuscitation procedures in an effort to preserve the organs of accident victims and others who die outside of hospitals. The recommendations essentially call on responders to regularly continue cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on patients who are not revivable to keep blood flowing to kidneys, livers, and other organs so that they may be better candidates for possible organ donation.

Doing so could give transplant surgeons access to a pool of up to 16,000 people who die with organs suitable for transplant, the panel concluded.

"Those really represent an untapped resource," James F. Childress, PhD, the panel's chairman, tells WebMD.

Financial Incentives for Organ Donations

The report also calls for federal authorities to fund more research on methods for encouraging altruistic donations and to help coordinate a growing number of state donor registries on a national scale.

But the committee avoided several bolder -- and more controversial -- proposals that some experts consider necessary to spur organ donations. They include calls to introduce a system of "assumed consent" -- essentially authorizing surgeons to take organs from deceased patients whose wishes are unknown and whose families are not available to make decisions.

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