In the News

Topeka Capital-Journal
Editorial Board

Nationwide, more than 114,000 adults and children need potentially lifesaving organ donations.

With a scarcity of available organs creating long wait times, the organ transplant system must be fair. But recent changes that could leave patients in Kansas and Missouri waiting even longer for a liver transplant compelled U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, of Missouri, to investigate.

The change to the longstanding geography-based system in essence would improve chances of patients awaiting transplants in regions with a lower ratio of organ donors to recipients.

While the Midwest and South generally have more available livers and fewer transplant candidates waiting for them, it’s the opposite in some other regions. Unfortunately, the policy change means patients in such states as Kansas and Missouri stand to lose.

At issue is a December decision by the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which manages the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Lawsuits filed on behalf of patients awaiting transplants in California, New York and Massachusetts led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to call on the OPTN/UNOS board to reconsider and alter the existing policy — even though the board’s own committee of experts who consider medical, scientific and ethical issues related to liver transplants recommended otherwise.

Helping the sickest patients receive lifesaving liver donations sooner in places with fewer organs available is admirable. Medical advances made it possible to keep donor livers viable longer for use by patients in locations farther away.

But Moran and Blunt understandably called the change shortsighted and done in haste, especially as medical experts claimed more equitable approaches to liver distribution exist and warrant consideration.

The clash also served as a reminder to enlist more prospective donors in every part of the country. Kansans can sign on at; by adding donor information to their driver’s license; or including organ donation in a power of attorney for health care.

Meanwhile, policymakers must further address concerns with the organ transplant system. Give credit to Moran and Blunt for speaking up for ailing patients in their states — and helping to raise awareness of the need to push toward a fairer, more effective system for every patient on the transplant list, regardless of where they live.

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