Who gets a kidney?
Each day, approximately 79 people receive organ transplants, 22 people die waiting for a transplant and another 122,000 people are still waiting for an organ, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While there is a national allocation system for organs, when people were asked just how they would allocate organs, it turns out they had a different method.
People tend to spread the organs across groups as opposed to allocating to specific individuals, according to a recent study published in Psychological Science. Although the findings may have suggested people were trying to distribute the limited resources evenly, evidence showed this is medically inefficient.
The study participants were told there were six available kidneys and asked them to determine which of the 12 fake patients would be a recipient. During the first portion of the study, half the participants were shown two groups of patients, one group labeled as having a poor chance of transplant success and the other a good chance. The rest of the participants were also presented two groups of patients, but in this case, each patient had an individual prognosis.
In the second part of the study, some participants were given patients with names, pictures, ages and prognoses, while other participants saw patients without any information beyond a prognosis.
Researchers found that when patients were grouped, participants were likely to distribute the available kidneys among both groups. However, when reviewing patients individually, participants who were provided more information beyond the patient’s prognosis were less efficient in allocating the kidneys.
This study does not reflect how the actual system works, experts say. A national allocation system, managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing, maintains the transplant waiting list.
“Patients are placed on the list only if they are fit for the transplant procedure,” Dr. Deepak Mital, kidney transplant surgeon and program director at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “The system takes into account both donor and recipient ages, medical urgency, geographic location and a multitude of other factors.”
One factor study participants consistently cited as more important than a patient’s prognosis was age, according to the study. They were often likely to reject an older patient with a good prognosis in favor of a younger patient with a poor prognosis.
“Age plays a small role in transplant organ distribution,” says Dr. Mital. “The best quality kidneys are allocated to patients with the greatest need and likelihood of the most utility long-term. But, extra points are given to children for kidney transplants.”
For more information on organ donation or to become an organ donor, visit the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.