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8.22.08 Issue #337 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Risa Pollack-Simon
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The Organ Shortage Crisis: A Humanitarian Dilemma

Every 11 minutes, a new name is added to a list on which nearly 100,000 people currently reside, awaiting a call. Although no one argues the call is worth waiting for, the average wait time spans three to five years, which is much too long for far too many.

As a result, 18 people die every day because they can wait no longer1. Astonishingly, this list does not reflect a pool of cancer patients, the homeless or the wounded from the war. Instead, it is the ever-growing national transplant list, which sadly confirms that the need for organs is vastly greater than the donated supply2.

What’s even more baffling is that this public health problem is rarely talked about when discussing universal healthcare and the right to life. Could it be that most individuals (like myself) feel they have already done their part by declaring their intentions on the back of their driver’s licenses? Perhaps it is that most people are unaware that this generous declaration is insufficient to address our nation’s current demand.

Intriguingly, other countries have what is known as a presumed consent law3 that assumes a person wishes to donate unless he or she expressly “opts out.” No doubt the United States could greatly benefit from this model.

Case in Point:
Although 95% of Americans say they support donation,
only 52.7% grant permission on a driver’s license or organ donor card3.

Donor rates are increasing, but not enough. Furthermore, potential donors who grant permission before their passing would be horrified to discover a family member overruled their decision while grieving the loss. This incredible loophole is most vulnerable when the donor isn’t officially registered with a donor registry4.

Indeed, these circumstances call for a serious review of our nation’s donor policy. Likewise, donor registry awareness becomes critically important as our nation continues to seek more resourceful opportunities for organ and tissue donation.

Living Donations
Blessed by the miracle of medical technology and the ultimate gift of human kindness, individuals are now learning that they don’t have to wait for their passing to give renewed life. Bone marrow, lobes of the lung, fractions of the liver and kidneys can be obtained from living donors. In fact, an entire kidney can be donated from a living donor, because both the donor and recipient only need one each for normal function.

The superlative advantage of living donation is that it makes it feasible to donate now - while living - rather than waiting for one’s passing to make a difference to another.

Auspiciously, because of an increase in living donor awareness, more than half of all kidney donors in the United States are from living donors. In 2007, there were 10,587 deceased donors, but as many as 6,039 living donors5. In total, there have been 117,717 deceased donors and 92,693 living donors as of the date of writing this article. Yet we still lose over 6,500 lives a year because of a shortage.

Living Organ Benefits
A living organ is considered a “healthy organ” when taken from a living donor with continuous circulation prior to removal. This differs significantly from deceased organs, particularly those from fatal incidents that occur outside a hospital. In such cases, organs often stop functioning hours before a decision is made to donate, which disqualifies them for transplantation.

Although hospital donors typically have a brain-based definition of death, this classification only accounts for 2% of hospital cases. Yet as organizations like the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)1 continue to educate the public, and hospitals continue to foster more effective policies for victims of brain death and cardiac death, we can increase the donor pool.

Of course, the real work must come directly from the government and the general public as a genuine and like-minded effort to embrace renewed life opportunities. Upon doing so, our nation’s wealth of human kindness shall no doubt meet this dying cry for help.

This article will be continued in two more parts, alternating over the next four weeks.


1. United Network of Organ Sharing:

2. John Hopkins Medicine Press Release; Altruistic donor makes possible the first “domino” three-way kidney transplant operation, May 19, 2005.

3. 2005 National Survey Organ and Tissue Donation Attitudes and Behaviors.

4. Formal registration for organ and tissue donation:

5. OPTN:The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

Risa Simon is a certified management consultant, professional speaker and published author who inherited a rare cystic kidney condition, which has positioned her among the many in need of a kidney transplant. After observing family members and friends with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) struggle with dialysis and unrealistic waitlists (and after experiencing her own challenges in trying to find a compatible donor), she decided to join a movement to increase awareness in the humanitarian call for “living” and “paired” donation. For more information, contact

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