The Organ Transplant Dilemma


That's how many people were awaiting organ transplants in the U.S. as of October 18, 1998. Eleven of those people will die today waiting for a compatible organ. That translates to more than 4,000 deaths annually, or about 500 each month.

The cruel fact is that even though someone is added to the national waiting list for an organ transplant every 30 minutes, one-third of those waiting will die before they get their lifesaving transplant.

In 1997, 19,916 solid organ transplants were performed. Transplantation of kidneys, hearts, and livers are no longer considered experimental procedures. Kidney transplants, which became standard medical practice in the 1960s, have an 85 to 95 percent success rate; heart and liver transplants have success rates of 85 to 90 percent. Procedures currently considered "experimental" (which seems primarily a labeling device used by governmental agencies and insurance companies to avoid paying for a procedure) are pancreatic, heart-lung, lung, and intestinal transplants.

This is the sad truth about the state of the American health care system:

the technology is in place, but the money and the resources are sorely lacking. New legislation attempts to make the allocation of the short supply of organs more equitable, but allocation is far from the only issue. Funding is inconsistent at best, and many transplant programs run on a deficit. With regard to related expenses and procedures, insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid, determine what they will and will not pay for. Perhaps the most solvable problem is increasing the number of donors, but even though "[e]ighty percent of adults in the U.S. are aware of the need for organ donation, ... only 20 percent of potential donors ever donate their organs" (Blust, pp. 13).