Group wants to improve odds of getting transplant

06:22 PM PST on Monday, February 14, 2005

It is illegal to sell human organs, which is why we have a national registry to determine who needs an organ transplant the most.
The unfortunate fact is that 6,000 people on the waiting list die every year because there just aren't enough people donating organs.
So now comes a controversial program that offers an unusual membership for people who are willing to think about this situation before they need help.

Here's a question not many have thought much about: If I ever needed an organ transplant, would I be able to get one?
Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington law professor, was doing some research on organ donation when he came across an idea that intrigued him.

He joined a national group called LifeSharers where members promise to give each other priority if any of them need a transplant.
"Right now, I have no need for an organ, I hope I never have a need for an organ, but if I do, it's nice to know that there's a pool of individuals who'd be willing to donate their organ to me," he said.

Right now, there are some 87,000 people on the waiting list. A national registry determines who gets an organ using a complex formula that weighs compatibility and the urgency of a patient's need.

People who join LifeSharers fill out a card saying that before their organs go to the national registry, they give first priority to any other LifeSharer member who might need the organ.

Membership is free and Calendrillo says it's a perfect way to get people to become organ donors.
"People sign up to become organ donors just out of altruism, just because they want to help save someone's life down the road. Unfortunately, there's not enough people signing up. Most people are taking their organs to their graves with them, and LifeSharers is a way to incentivize people to sign up not only out of altruism, but out of self-interest," said Calendrillo.

"It is in someway prejudicial," said Dr. William Marks, one of the Northwest's top directors in organ transplants.
He says there are serious ethical problems here. Why should some people get to "jump the line" just because they join a group over the Internet?

If people start forming their own groups, who gets shortchanged?

"Organs of donors are a communal resource, and ethically, they should go to anyone who's in need, in the fairest manner possible. And the club mentality prevents that from taking place," said Marks.
But Calandrillo and other members say it just makes sense that people who are willing to donate organs should be given priority in getting organs.

To date, the LifeSharer membership has never been tested. In the first couple years, about 3,000 members signed up, but no one needing a transplant has ever matched with another member.
To be a viable organ donor pool, organizers say, they need several hundred if not a million people to sign up.

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