- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

In an effort to address the nationwide organ shortage, the group in charge of America's transplant system voted yesterday to lobby Congress for studies on purchasing organs from relatives of the recently deceased.

"We haven't discussed yet how the program would be implemented," said Anne Paschke, a spokeswoman for the Virginia-based United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). "We're simply acknowledging that congressional action is required to move forward."

With about 80,000 patients on the waiting list for transplants annually, up from 15,000 10 years ago, UNOS decided it needed to consider offering money to the bereaved as incentives. About 6,000 people died awaiting transplants last year, about 16 persons a day.

"The only 'incentive' it would give to people is the incentive to pull the plug on a relative whose death is not truly inevitable," said Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Arizona-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Yesterday's resolutions, approved at the group's annual board meeting in Orlando, Fla., called for an UNOS subcommittee to suggest guidelines for the program and monitor its implementation, and for the medical community to request support from Congress.

The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act prohibits the sale of human organs under the reasoning that a "pure open market" on body parts would lead to an unfair system where only the wealthy could afford transplants.

But UNOS won an early victory in its quest to revise the law when the American Medical Association reversing an earlier decision voted last week to approve new studies.

The AMA said that offering money for cadaver organ donations might be done "in a way that isn't coercive," said Dr. Frank Riddick, former chairman of the AMA ethical and judicial affairs committee.

Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the current demand for organs in the United States so far exceeds the supply that many patients with end-stage organ failure "no longer rely on the waiting list."

"Instead, they are turning to spouses, friends, or strangers as possible donors a medically acceptable alternative because advances in immunosuppression has eliminated the requirement of a genetic match for successful organ transplantation," the Journal reported.

The article added that U.S. law has created a "worldwide black market" for purchasing organs such as kidneys from living donors.

"Paying relatives will exacerbate the problem," said Dr. Orient. "If it's all right to give organs away, why isn't it all right [for living donors] to sell them?"

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