Organ transplants

When Drones Deliver Human Organs

Imagine skies filled with drones carrying kidneys and livers, on their way to save the lives of people awaiting transplants. The future is here!


Drones aren't just good for speedy package delivery and aerial photography anymore. Last week, the unmanned aviation company MissionGO and an organ procurement group, the Nevada Donor Network, announced the completion of two organ and tissue delivery test flights. The achievement might make organ delivery to U.S. hospitals faster and easier.

The first MissionGO drone transported corneas from Southern Hills Hospital in Las Vegas to San Martin Hospital (also in Las Vegas). The second transported a kidney from an airport to a small Nevada desert town, the longest organ delivery drone flight ever.

This technology will be a boon to transplant patients, especially during the pandemic. In the past, donor organs have been transported mostly via commercial flights; now that these flights have been cut back due to plummeting demand, there's a risk that some organs will take too long to reach their destination. (Organs are generally only good for 36 to 48 hours after harvesting.)

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, an August 2019 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the U.S. discards more than 3,000 kidney donations annually. Drones could play a major part in reducing such waste by reducing the travel time between donor and ultimate destination. The technology has already played a major role in getting personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to hospitals that urgently need them during the pandemic.

Another way to solve shortages—other than by reducing waste of viable organs—would be to compensate organ donors the same way we do with plasma (and surrogate wombs, semen, and eggs). But in the absence of the political will to take that up, reducing waste of already-scarce organs via more efficient delivery technology is surely a step in the right direction.

Maybe someday the skies will be full of lifesaving kidneys, livers, hearts, and corneas traveling cheaply by drone. A libertarian can dream.