- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

Congress is scheduled to vote today on a bill that would make thousands of kidneys available through an exchange program.

The legislation would modify rules and allow kidney patients to receive organs through a process called “paired donor transplants.”

The process would create a type of quid pro quo system that gives a donor the expectation that a kidney will be found for the intended but incompatible recipient, usually a close friend or relative.

A national database would be created to match donors with biologically compatible recipients. No such database exists today.

In 2005, 16,477 kidney transplants were performed in the United States with 6,563 transplants coming from living donors. Living kidneys are preferable because they last longer.

The failure rate of kidney transplants is dropping, down to 10 percent in 2002. Transplant patients require medication for the rest of their lives.

“This comes at a critical time,” said Robert Montgomery, director of the Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program at the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital. “Every year there is a growing shortage of organs available for lifesaving transplantation, while thousands of otherwise willing living donors are hindered in their generosity by the ambiguous language of the [current] legislation.”

In the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, Congress intended to stop the illegal purchase of organs but unintentionally impeded the development a national registry that would facilitate matching compatible pairs.

About 150 paired-exchange transplants have been performed in the United States. Allowing paired organ donations may increase the available number of kidneys by 2,000 in the first year, according the United Network for Organ Sharing and the National Kidney Foundation.

“With the explicit recognition under the legislation, we would expect many more to be done in the future,” said the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that coordinates U.S. organ transplants.

The Senate passed nearly identical legislation earlier this month. The House will rename the bill in honor its chief sponsor, Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, who died of lung cancer this year.

The demand for kidney transplants continues to rise at a record pace. More than 73,000 people are registered on the Organ Procurement Transplant Network waiting list. If the demand continues to outnumber the available supply of kidneys, about half of the 73,000 will receive a transplant. In 2004, 3,823 listed candidates died while awaiting a kidney.

By allowing more patients on dialysis to acquire a kidney transplant, the legislation will provide millions of dollars in Medicare cost savings, Dr. Montgomery said. Medicare pays for all dialysis treatment regardless of age.

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