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The Case for Living-Organ Donation

Photo: Courtesy of ABRAHAM POPOCATL

Since the first successful kidney, liver and heart transplants occurred over half a century ago, thousands of solid organs are transplanted into patients with organ failure every year across the United States.

Currently, living kidney transplants make up about a third of all kidneys transplanted in this country. This is an essential option for patients. Patients often report the best outcomes and quality of life after receiving a living kidney transplant. There is also incentive when it comes to tax dollars, as hemodialysis costs $90,971 per patient annually while a kidney transplant costs $34,780 per patient annually.

Helping potential donors

For this reason, it is important that there are as few barriers as possible for potential donors. Kidney donors go through very rigorous medical testing to ensure they are in the best of health before donating an organ and are among the healthiest people in society. However, many patients are reluctant to come forward to donate for fear of being discriminated against by insurers, and nearly one third of patients who go through with donation experience difficulty securing or paying for insurance.

Another barrier to donation is job security. As donation surgery is an elective procedure, many employers are reluctant to grant time off work for donors to recover from their operation — a process than can take up to four weeks for some donors. This situation has forced some potential donors to even have to cancel donation as a result and prevents some people with kidney failure from even being willing to ask family members or loved ones to consider living donation.

Increasing access

The Living Donor Protection Act (LDPA) is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representative Jaime (WA-03) and Representative Jerry Nadler (NY-10) that would ensure donors are not denied or given limited coverage or higher premiums for life, disability and long-term care plans. It would allow living organ donors to use the Family and Medical Leave Act to recover from donation surgery while maintaining job security.

Many policy makers see these protections as common sense. Responding to a request by Representative Herrera Beutler, the Department of Labor recently decided that Family and Medical Leave Act protections should be extended to organ donors. Passing the LDPA would ensure that this Department of Labor guidance is codified into law. 

We must increase access to transplantation by eliminating barriers to living donation and reduce the burden of organ failure. Thankfully, legal protections for donors are on the horizon due to the hard work of patients, their friends and family members and to all those touched by organ failure.

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