Commentary: Why price heroism? Organ donors can save taxpayers millions. They deserve a break.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE | Paul Baskin, Arthur Caplan
A donor is taken to an operating room for a kidney transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2012 in Baltimore. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
At 5 a.m. on the first Friday of April, a perfectly healthy 27-year-old newlywed awoke in a hotel 300 miles from her home and walked into the nearby hospital. There, the modern-day American hero and true Wonder Woman let a team of surgeons cut open her abdomen and take out a vital organ. For the lucky recipient of her right kidney, Brittany Burton's imponderable kindness was an act of lifesaving heroism. And for all her fellow taxpayers, it was a living bequest worth as much as a million dollars.

One of us was the beneficiary of both of those gifts. Both of us badly wish that many more people in dire need could find themselves in the same happy position. And yet — largely because so many Americans don't realize the beneficence shown to them by heroines like Brittany that early spring day — many of those in need probably will die instead.

The math is pretty simple.

For those suffering kidney failure — from inherited conditions or other diseases — the only option for survival other than a transplant is dialysis. That means a laborious and time-consuming mechanical filtering of the blood — usually for many hours, three times a week — to replace the job done by the kidneys. This costs about $90,000 a year and rising. Most of that bill is covered by government insurance through Medicare. Continue reading
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