How to Provide Better Incentives to Organ Donors

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL | Amy Dockser Marcus

Three experts discuss strategies to address the shortage of organs available for people who need transplants

Many people on the waiting list for a transplant will die before receiving one. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
The shortage of organ donors is an urgent health crisis.

More than 114,000 people in the U.S. are currently listed as waiting for an organ transplant. Many will die before receiving one. Others endure long waits. In some places, waiting time for a kidney, the organ most in demand, can stretch for years, with prospective recipients continuing to suffer through debilitating dialysis treatments.

Organ transplantation in the U.S. is governed by the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, which bars the sale of organs. The current system in the U.S. relies on convincing people to register as organ donors in case of death or serve as living donors. But altruism may not be enough to solve the shortage. Some policy makers are starting to ask whether financial incentives or other types of inducements should be considered.

One policy idea that drew recent attention was to allow so-called imminent-death organ donation from people on life support before that support is withdrawn. Allowing such donations might increase the availability of organs that may not be viable for transplantation after a potential donor dies, but the ethical implications remain controversial.

We talked about options for increasing organ donation with Sally Satel, a doctor and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the beneficiary of two kidney donations; Alexandra Glazier, chief executive of New England Donor Services, which coordinates organ and tissue donation in six New England states and Bermuda; and Andrew Flescher, a professor of public health and English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and author of “The Organ Shortage Crisis in America.” Edited excerpts of the conversation follow. Continue reading

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