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Organ Donations Decline as Need Increases


More than 100,000 people need life-saving organ transplants in the United States, and an additional million need life-saving and life-improving tissues, eyes, and corneas. Yet every day, an average of 18 people die because there are not enough organ donations to meet the need, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. The seriousness of the lack of organ donations has been highlighted in a new study conducted by investigators at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The study’s authors found that the gap between the number of organs available for transplant and the number of patients waiting for a donor organ is widening. The number of organs from living donors has declined progressively since 2004, and for the first time, the number of organs from deceased donors has declined.

Members of the research team, led by Andrew S. Klein, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, found that the number of living donors increased yearly from 1999 to 2004, but has been declining since then. Although the number of organ donations from deceased individuals risen each year between 1999 and 2007, the increase was not sufficient to offset the decline in living donor donations.

The fact that transplantation of solid organs is now so successful has actually made getting an organ more difficult. “Improved survival rates and the expectation that organ replacement will enhance quality of life have encouraged more doctors and their patients with organ failure to opt for transplantation,” explains Klein.

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One example is Kurt Penner. As a prelude to the past winter Olympics, double-lung transplant recipient Penner carried the Olympic torch in Ontario to highlight the need for organ and tissue donations. Penner received his double-lung transplant through the Trillium Gift of Life Network within days of dying of emphysema.

Recently, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who had a life-saving liver transplant last year, joined forces with governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to help push through new legislation in California to expand the number of organ donors in that state.

Convincing individuals to be an organ donor is a challenge. Although about 90 percent of Americans say they support organ donation, only 30 percent know the steps that need to be taken to become a donor. Several factors contribute to the public’s lack of awareness of the issue and to organ shortage itself, as the Cedars-Sinai researchers note.

Some of those factors include disincentives for living organ donors (e.g., loss of income while taking off work, transplant-related medical expenses may not be covered by the recipient’s insurance), lack of understanding by the public about organ donation policies, poor training of medical personnel who request consent for donations, and an inability to accurately evaluate the quality of donated organs based on currently available procurement testing.

Klein notes that their study showed that the public needs to be educated about organ donation and that the transplantation process and organ procurement facilities need to be more transparent if we hope to turn around the decline in organ donations as the need increases. For more information about organ donation, the Mayo Clinic discusses 10 myths about the topic, and OrganDonor.gov discusses how to be an organ donor.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
New York Organ Donor Network Donate Life
Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network



Your story about Organ Donation highlighted the tragic shortage of human organs for transplant operations. Over 50% of the people on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year. There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage – give donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die. Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren't willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs. Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 13,600 members at this writing, Please contact me - Dave Undis, Executive Director of LifeSharers - if your readers would like to learn more about our innovative approach to increasing the number of organ donors. I can arrange interviews with some of our local members if you're interested. My email address is [email protected] My phone number is 615-351-8622.