Organ transplantation can save or benefit the lives of thousands of patients with end-stage organ failure. Many organs come from donors who have already passed away, but the availability of these organs is simply insufficient to meet the demand.

Living hope

In many instances, a preferable alternative is for a patient to receive an organ from a living donor. Living individuals can donate one of their two kidneys, as the remaining kidney is sufficient to remove waste from the body. A healthy person can also usually donate a portion of his or her liver or lung.

Deciding to give up a part of your body to help someone else is not a decision that comes easily. As medical professionals, we freely admit that we do not fully understand all of the risks posed by living donation, especially the long-term risks to young donors. Additionally, the act of donation can present a number of financial risks to the donor and the donor’s family.

“Not supporting living donation is definitely harmful to the many patients that will die waiting for a transplant that never happens.”

Gauging risk

These risks include the donor potentially losing employment and jeopardizing future insurability. Furthermore, living donation comes with many immediate expenses, such as travel to and from the transplant center for the procedure and follow up, lost wages due to missing work throughout the process and the cost of childcare or elder care for those dependent on the recovering donor.

For many years, our government has been reluctant to promote living donation, largely out of fear that living donation could potentially be injurious to the donor. However, not supporting living donation is definitely harmful to the many patients that will die waiting for a transplant that never happens. Fortunately, there is a sea change afoot.

Advancing donation

Currently, there is legislation pending in the House and the Senate, supported strongly by both parties, called the Living Donor Protection Act of 2016. If passed, this would protect living donors and promote organ donation by prohibiting insurance companies from denying or limiting coverage for living donors, or from charging higher premiums for living donors. It also allows donors to use Family and Medical Leave Act time to recover from the procedures involved in donating.

Second, the White House is now on record in tasking the Department of Health and Human Services to launch initiatives to educate the public about the need for living donation and to support research that defines and mitigates any risk associated with living donation. Out of these new approaches to living donation we will all be enabled to make the gift of life without the fear that helping our neighbor will irreparably harm our own well being.