NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Entering Donated-organ Issue Debate

March 11, 1999

A number of state legislatures have been passing laws that would bar donated organs from being shipped beyond their borders. Observers say they are doing so to thwart an effort by the Clinton administration to force organ recovery networks and transplant centers to share organs more liberally.

  • More than 61,000 Americans are now awaiting organ transplants -- but only about 20,000 transplants are performed each year due to organ shortages.
  • Under the current system for sharing organs, the nation is divided into 63 areas composed of 11 regions -- with huge disparities in waiting times among them.
  • Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation aimed at equalizing the waiting time for organs -- but it raised such controversy between transplant doctors, hospitals and patients that Congress delayed its effective date until December 1.
  • Meanwhile, five states -- Wisconsin, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Florida -- have adopted laws to keep organs within their borders, and lawmakers in Arizona and Texas are considering the issue.

On Thursday, the Institute of Medicine -- at the request of Congress -- starts an examination of the organ allocation system. It aims to present its findings by September, at which time Congress may step in and overhaul the system or opt to step aside. If it does not act, the matter could wind up in court with some states suing the government in a states' rights dispute over whether the Clinton administration's regulation or state laws should prevail.

Source: Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Fight Over Organs Shifts to States From Washington," New York Times, March 11, 1999.


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