What Can be Done to Resolve Shortages of Donated Organs for Transplant?

According to a story from The Chicago Tribune, insufficient supplies of donated organs that could be used for transplant surgeries result in 33 deaths per day in the US. At any given time, around 115,000 people are stuck on waiting lists with the hope, often with their lives on the line, of getting an organ transplant.

Solving The Shortage

It is clear that something should be done to help solve this problem; the chronic shortage of organs has led to multiple law suits and thousands of preventable deaths. Transplant operations of organs such as the liver and lungs can be a critical part of treatment for many rare disease patients. These operations have the potential to dramatically alter a patient’s duration and quality of life, and in some cases they can be curative.

Many medical experts believe that the best way to resolve the problem is to expand the pool of organs that transplant surgeons are willing to accept. A lot of people who are listed as organ donors may have their organs rejected due to prior disease or other characteristics that make the organ in question less than perfect. Studies suggest that the number of organs being used could double if these standards were relaxed.

On its face, this may seem like a troubling solution; after all, who would want a liver from someone who had hepatitis? However, organs from people with curable diseases are not necessarily going to put the recipient in undue danger; an analysis from the Washington Post found that 1,400 people received organs from infected people last year.

Many older people ultimately have organs that could be used for donation rejected. Federal law also discourages the use of less than perfect organs. The law requires patients to be told of an organ was infected or is at greater risk, so naturally many people, even those who could die without a transplant, turn them down even though the infections could be cured. Transplant doctors are also rated based on the one year survival rate of their patients, so they are more hesitant to use these organs also, even though they could save lives.

However, medical experts and some transplant surgeons have found that less than perfect organs can often be worth the risk. Organ recovery rates are starting to rise as more centers are willing to accept these organs.

Take the case of Jennilyn Green. She is a 34 year old cystic fibrosis patient. She accepted a pair of rehabilitated lungs that had initially been filled with fluid and couldn’t expand. Now, she can walk for an hour straight on a treadmill and can climb a flight of stairs without having to stop to catch her breath. Stories like these prove that less than perfect organs can still save lives.


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