Editorial: Incentivizing donors

According to the Nevada Donor Network, 553 people in the Silver State are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Nationally, the number is 121,000.

While doctors performed some 31,000 organ transplants in the United States last year, “the sizable gap between demand and supply generally widens every year,” the Washington Post reported this week, “leaving tens of thousands of people on waiting lists.”

The delays have deadly consequences. On average, 22 Americans die every day waiting for a suitable organ, typically a kidney.

On Monday, a coalition of universities, corporations and nonprofits announced an initiative intended to attract more potential donors and to reduce the wait time for those in need. The approach combines efforts by social media giants to encourage users to register as donors, with new research endeavors that include funding for a Defense Department program to develop advances in tissue regeneration.

In addition, “more than 30 transplant centers have agreed to share information on kidney transplants for patients who are difficult to match,” the Post reports. The goal is to increase transplants in the United States by 2,000 a year.

These are all commendable steps, as far as they go. A 6 percent leap in transplants would save lives and reduce wait times for many others.

But perhaps it’s time to amend federal law to encourage an approach that could dramatically reduce the backlog of patients now at the mercy of a system that traditionally fails to produce enough available organs. “It’s time to test the waters on incentivizing donors,” writes Mark E. Neumann in an April essay for Nephrology News.

Mr. Neumann points out that a recent study for JAMA Surgery found that paying kidney donors could increase the number of obtainable organs by the tens of thousands. Allowing payments to donors would also be a boon for those awaiting bone marrow transplants.

“As the authors note, laws that allow one to legally sell sperm and blood — all done in an environment that could create risk — should also allow one to sell a kidney,” Mr. Neumann writes.

The study’s authors — a transplant surgeon and his colleagues — recommend that Congress create a pilot program concerning donor compensation and that the results become “the basis of regulatory policy.”

Then, if such a pilot effort proves successful, they write, “perhaps one day there might be a long waiting list of persons wanting to donate rather than a list of Americans waiting for kidneys that never come.”

And shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal?

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