Steve Jobs case another example of transplant disparities?

Laura Meckler writes in the WSJ:

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs's decision to travel to Tennessee for a liver highlights the significant disparities in transplant waiting times across the country -- the source of a longstanding controversy over the fairest way to distribute scarce organs.

Forbes recently suggested that singer Natalie Cole bypassed thousands on a waiting list to get preferential treatment for a kidney transplant.

Meckler further reports:

"There's no question there are patients chasing organs rather than the organs coming to the patients," said James Pomposelli, surgical director of transplantation at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass.

The disparity in waiting times has led to a sometimes nasty fight among hospitals. The current system relies heavily on illness and geography, with the chances of getting a donated liver much better for those waiting in the same local area as the donor. In many cases, priority is given to those who sign up locally, even if there are sicker patients waiting in the next city or next region.

Over the years, there have been efforts to decrease the importance of geography, and changes have been made in an effort to even out the disparities. But each time there has been resistance from transplant centers.

The UNOS board is set to consider one resolution at its next meeting to more broadly share livers for patients with acute liver failure. But another measure, which would have required broader sharing for a much larger number of livers, was pulled from the agenda amid opposition. UNOS plans public hearings to debate it further.

Exactly 20 years ago I won a National Association of Science Writers Science-In-Society Award and an American Heart Association Howard W. Blakeslee Award for "Managing A Miracle," a CNN documentary on troubling issues in organ transplantation. Many of the issues I covered then are ripe and unresolved today.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on June 20, 2009 8:20 AM.

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