The death last month of Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., may serve as a blessing for some of the estimated 70,000 kidney patients whose lives depend on receiving transplanted organs.
Norwood, who succumbed to lung cancer, was the lead sponsor of H.R. 710, a bill that will let living organ donors engage in "paired exchanges of human kidneys" without fear of prosecution.
The congressman, who waited six years for a lung transplant after his initial diagnosis in 1998, championed the bill in his final months. In his honor, H.R. 710 passed the House 422-0 Wednesday and it is expected to quickly move through the Senate.
As The Associated Press explains, "Paired donations allow a patient with a willing but biologically incompatible donor - such as a friend or family member - to match up with a similarly incompatible pair so both patients can get transplants." The United Network for Organ Sharing is but one organization that maintains databases of donors and transplant candidates.
By formally facilitating paired donations, the waiting list for kidneys could immediately shrink by 1,000 per year. This change alone could increase transplants by 14 percent, according to one study.
Paired donation is legal, but a number of hospitals have refused to participate. They've operated under the misguided notion (promoted by some ethicists) that donation should be an anonymous process, and that donors that find recipients and jump to the head of the line have received "valuable consideration," which is illegal. So the bill simply states that shared donation does not involve "valuable consideration" for an organ transplant.
The current interpretation literally is a killer: 60 percent of those on the waiting list at any time will die before they can find a recipient. It's also quite costly, as over time dialysis is much more expensive than a transplant. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would save taxpayers $470 million in spending on public health programs over the next 10 years.
Meantime, legislation is moving forward at the state Capitol that would simplify organ donation for Colorado residents at death.
House Bill 1266 would align state law with guidelines established by national transplant organizations so that, for example, people who want to make their organs available for transplant can link up with specific charities. It would also let those who do not wish to be donors more clearly make their intentions known.
These bills, federal and state, meld compassion with common sense. Both should quickly become law. Such personal acts of generosity should not be delayed by red tape or shrouded in legal ambiguity.
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