Debate opens on how to allocate scarce livers
December 10, 1996
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three days of federal hearings opened
Tuesday on proposals to change the way the nation's medical
system distributes scarce livers for urgent transplants.
Patients, surgeons, hospital officials, organ donor groups
and medical economists are testifying at the hearings being
held by the Department of Health and Human Services.
One potentially pivotal proposal would put patients with
sudden-liver failure ahead of those with chronic liver
disease. Supporters of the change say people who suffer
sudden failure are more likely to survive.
It's a matter of getting the organs to patients with a more
likely chance of recovery, said Dr. James Burdick, a
transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins and head of the United
Network for Organ Sharing.
(196K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
But others contend the new rules will penalize chronically
ill liver patients, even if they are sick enough to need
intensive hospital care. That could mean many of them will
die, said Dr. John Fung, a University of Pittsburgh
(119K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Much of the debate also concerns regional borders. As it
stands, when an organ is donated, nearby hospitals get
priority. Critics say the result is that patients in some
parts of the country wait 20 times longer than others.
Livers for transplants are in short supply. There are about
4,000 available each year for 7,000 people who are waiting.
Last year, more than 800 liver patients died before they
could have a transplant.
Correspondent Andrew Holtz and Reuters contributed to this report.
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