Q&A: Professor Keren Ladin discusses recently published study about organ donor designation


Keren Ladin, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy and Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, recently published a study in the “Milbank Quarterly,” a health and public policy journal. Ladin, who has been researching organ donations since 2007, finds that social capital — which, according to the Harvard Kennedy School, refers to the “specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information and cooperation associated with social networks [or who people know]” — can account for over half of organ donation designations. This new insight shifts the focus from individual characteristics to community interaction as the basis for analyzing such altruistic decisions.

Last week, Ladin sat down with the Daily to talk about her research.

The following is an abridged version of the interview.

Tufts Daily (TD): What got you interested in this topic?

Karen Ladin (KL): I’ve been researching [organ] transplantation more broadly since 2007, and it started off because it merged my interests in disparities and ethics and healthcare resource allocation. Transplantation within the U.S. healthcare system — thinking pre-Obamacare — is a fairy unique example where, in kidney transplants at least, you have a fully insured and regulated market. So everyone who is transplant-eligible for a kidney in the [United States] is insured under Medicare, and the actual transplants and candidates are all recorded and public. So we have data on everything, which rarely happens. And yet, despite this sort of perfect market situation, we continuously have disparities. So even when we update the algorithm in terms of taking out criteria that we think are reinforcing inequities, disparities remain … And it’s interesting…in the context of the discussion of healthcare reform. You know, the notion was that “If we insure the entire population, if we give everyone health insurance, then we’re going to really alleviate disparities.” There is some element of that which is true; you will mitigate some level of disparities. But it is not the be-all-end-all. Continue reading