- - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Saving and transforming lives with transplanted organs is one of the most remarkable and inspiring innovations of modern medicine. A donated heart, kidney or liver can turn the tragedy of an automobile accident into an opportunity for the living. A few legal tweaks could make it easier for all.

National Donate Life Month concludes Wednesday, and more could be done to help the 6,500 Americans who die every year — an average of 18 a day — because they can’t get a transplant in time to save their lives.

America doesn’t need another registration drive, a bigger bake sale or more persuasive television commercials. Everyone already knows transplants save lives. Changing transplant policy would make a difference because only about half of Americans are registered organ donors now. Thousands of “transplantable” organs and tissue that could be used to save lives become medical waste.

Two simple changes could boost the number of transplantable organs available in America while respecting an individual’s right to choose not to become an organ donor.

The first is to overcome the natural laziness that most of us are heir to. Current policy assumes that Americans don’t want to donate their organs, and if they do want to, they are required to specifically request to become a donor.

This is not always true elsewhere. Austria, for example, has a presumed-consent model, and anyone who doesn’t want to be an organ donor can say so with a telephone call or a click or two on a website. As a result, 99 percent of the population are registered organ donors. Bordering Germany, in comparison, has the American system, and its organ-donation rate is only 12 percent.

A second option is a common-sense plan that uses market incentives to create a greater pool of organ donors. Registered organ donors would be entitled to priority status if they ever need an organ themselves and one becomes available.

Current federal law dictates that medical need alone determines who receives an available organ. Priority status would be a powerful incentive to register to donate, and it’s only fair that organs should be available first to people who were generous enough to register their willingness to participate.

Adopting either system would save thousands of lives every year. Transplanting organs is a wonderful advance of medicine, and there’s a wonderful way to exploit it to everyone’s benefit. It won’t cost anyone anything, and the lives it could save are priceless.