Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Liver?


People with chronic liver disease, often caused by heavy drinking, will no longer be at the front of the line for a new liver. Not that they aren't in desperate need of a replacement, but the Richmond, Virginia based United Network for Organ Sharing has decided that recipients who have a better chance of surviving deserve higher priority.

UNOS says it had to do it: There are simply not enough donated livers, or other organs, to go around. And the problem is getting worse. At the end of 1988, 16,026 people were on the waiting list, with 12,786 organs donated. In 1995, 20,006 organs were donated, but the waiting list was 44,057 at the end of the year. It now stands at over 49,000. The tragic result: 3,448 Americans died in 1995 while on the waiting list. The actual number of deaths could be far higher, because transplant centers set increasingly stringent standards even to get on the waiting list.

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 prohibits the purchase or sale of human organs. Without that law, paying organ donors (or their survivors) would encourage more organ donations and help close the deadly gap.