Organ Transplant Crisis: A New Approach

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April is National Donate Life Month, and 100,000 people in the U.S. are racing the clock for their survival. They need an organ transplant, and over half of these individuals will die before getting their life-saving operation.

The issue is not shortage of organs, but a shortage of donors, according to David J. Undis, executive director of LifeSharers (www.lifesharers.org), a non-profit network of organ donors.

In the time it takes for 8,000 of these transplant hopefuls to die, approximately 20,000 viable organs will be thrown away – buried or cremated with their owners. LifeSharers wants to change that by giving people a chance to save their own lives by agreeing to donate their organs after they die.

LifeSharers is marshalling the power of community in organ donations – with impressive results.  The organization has created a 12,000+ member national network of individuals that have agreed to donate their organs upon their death.  In exchange, these donors receive priority access to the organs of fellow members when and if they need a transplant.  For the members of LifeSharers, their good deed can literally save their life.

By creating such a powerful incentive for non-donors to become donors, this reciprocity-based approach to organ donation has the potential to greatly increase the total pool of available organs. And more donors means fewer people dying while waiting for transplants.

And by rewarding those who agree to become donors, it also creates a much more equitable system of organ transplant access. As Undis puts it, “someone who would throw away his organs rather than save his neighbor’s life has no moral claim to a life-saving organ from his neighbor.”

LifeSharers’ community-driven approach is making organ donations – and access to organs – much more visible and mainstream.  Because the network is open to the very old and very young (parents may enroll their under-age children), the sick and healthy, and is free of charge, barriers to access are virtually eliminated.

LifeSharers also works to educate the public about organ donation. For example, Undis notes the following.

  • Over 6,000 Americans die every year while on the waiting list for a life-saving transplant—one every 90 minutes.
  • Half of the organs that could be transplanted are buried or cremated instead.
  • The waiting list is growing five times as fast as the rate of organ donation.
  • You are more likely to need an organ transplant than you are to die in circumstances that permit the donation your organs.
  • No one is too old to be an organ donor.  People would rather live with an old organ than die waiting for a young one.
  • No one is too sick to be an organ donor.  Ongoing advances in medical science mean that an organ that may not be transplantable today may very well be so five, ten or more years from now.

More information can be found at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88.


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