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Also, far fewer fell off the wagon than expected: Only three of the transplant patients started drinking again two to three years later, a rate much lower than the estimated 30 percent relapse rate in general among alcoholic patients who meet the six-month sobriety rule.

Dr. Christopher Hughes, director of liver transplantation at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said he is worried the pool of potential organ donors could shrink if the public believes organs are going to active drinkers.

“I think this will be very controversial. I don’t think you’ll find a lot of support for adopting this,” Hughes said.

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Online:

New England Journal: http://www.nejm.org

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AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson