UW Health Opposes Donor Organ Policy Change

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MADSON - UW Health officials announced today they are joining with other medical centers and organ transplant programs around the country to halt a fast-moving proposal that could send needed transplant organs out of state.

The proposal at issue would change the way donor livers are distributed, from a local-based allocation to a regional system. Under the system, patients in Wisconsin in need of a liver transplant would be forced to compete against longer lists of transplant candidates in Illinois and Minnesota for the donor organs. Under existing rules, the neediest and most appropriate patient locally receives the donor organ.

The proposal was put forth quietly by the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), the entity that oversees and manages the nation's donor and transplant organ systems. UNOS is a contractor for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The group is fast-tracking the liver reallocation proposal - one which could set the stage for reallocating other donor organs - at a time when the federal agency has no top decision-maker and without much opportunity for broad public input.

In response, UW Health has joined with a group of other transplant centers and organ procurement organizations in at-risk states to form the National Organ Transplant Access Coalition (NOTAC). The group is pressing UNOS, DHHS and political leaders to put the proposal on hold while the impact on Wisconsin and similarly situated states is more thoroughly considered, and until more evidence of potential benefits of the proposal can be generated. To date there is little or no data supporting that a meaningful national benefit would result from the policy change.

"Wisconsin has a long history of leading the nation in organ donation and transplantation," said Dr. Anthony D'Alessandro, director of the UW Health liver transplant program. "But these policy changes could end that legacy for our state and many other states that are sandwiched between larger, urban centers, and would mean patients from these states would have to travel to other states to receive their transplant. Currently there are 218 people waiting for a liver transplant in Wisconsin."
An average of 90 people a year receive a liver transplant at UW Hospital and Clinics.

In addition to the probability for adverse impact on patients in need of a liver transplant in Wisconsin, "there is the very real likelihood that organ donations in Wisconsin will decline if donors and their families believe their organs will no longer stay in the local community," said D'Alessandro. "These are not risks that we can afford to take in matters of life and death."

UW Health is encouraging patients, donor families and other concerned members of the community to share their opposition to the proposal. NOTAC's Web site contains a link to allow any interested individual or organization to share their comments by April 24, the deadline for submissions.

Date Published: 04/28/2009

News tag(s):  transplant

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