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Entries in United Network for Organ Sharing (1)

Friday
Feb252011

Waiting for a Kidney: Survival of the Fittest?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(RICHMOND, Va.) -- Jerry Powell's kidneys may be dying, but the 50-year-old newlywed still has a lot of living to do. Within weeks, Powell will rely on dialysis to filter his blood, and ultimately, he'll need a kidney transplant. But the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) -- the organization charged with allocating the nation's organs -- is considering a policy change that could impact Powell's standing.

Currently, those at the top of an 87,000-strong waiting list are next in line for a matched kidney -- regardless of age and health status.

"We started with what we thought was best at the time, but as things change we need to make improvements," said Dr. Christopher Marsh, chief of transplant surgery at the Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation and UNOS board member. "The current system is not fair. The new approach, from a medical and scientific standpoint, is an improvement."

The proposed change, which was released as a concept document Feb. 16 for public comment, would reserve 20 percent of donor organs for those recipients expected to live the longest after a transplant, and the remaining 80 percent for recipients age-matched to within 15 years of the donor.

"This would reduce the possibility that a candidate reasonably expected to live ten more years receives a kidney that may function for 40 years, or conversely that a candidate reasonably expected to live 40 more years receives a kidney that may function for only ten," Anne Paschke a spokeswoman for UNOS, said in a statement.

Only 17,000 Americans receive a transplant each year, and more than 4,600 die waiting.

Although the proposal was only recently made public, the idea has been around for almost a decade. According to the 40-page proposal, people over 50 would lose an advantage they currently hold. The donor pool for a 60-year-old could theoretically be cut by half.

For patients like Powell, the change could mean getting an older kidney with fewer functional years. It could also mean getting an "extended criteria donation" -- a kidney that, until recent years, would not have been transplanted at all.

Although the proposal raises sensitive issues surrounding health care and social justice, the topic of rationing is one that, at least for kidney transplants, is very real.

UNOS is inviting feedback on the proposal until April 1.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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