NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2005

In their often desperate hunt for a compatible donor, an increasing number of patients needing organ transplants seek donors online, says the Washington Post. With demand for organs surging and Internet access widening, patients are setting up Web sites, making pleas in chat rooms or telling their life stories on sites, a trend that has triggered an intense and emotional debate.

Nearly 90,000 Americans are on lists for organs, mostly kidneys and livers, and many will die waiting. Only a small fraction are saved through the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the private, nonprofit organization that oversees the nation's organ procurement system, says the Post.

According to skeptics:

  • Finding donors over the Internet undermines the traditional system by giving the more affluent, educated or computer literate an edge.
  • Some believe it may also promote racial or religious discrimination and facilitate illegal trafficking in organs.

According to proponents:

  • Internet organ matching is already saving lives and has the potential to save thousands more because it dramatically improves the odds of finding a donor.
  • With computers available at public libraries, everyone has access to the Internet, and no group is more or less likely to get offered organs because donors tend to be drawn to recipients for very personal reasons.

Many want UNOS to step in to provide some uniformity and guarantee of fairness, but the organization decided against getting involved. It opted instead to simply provide information for donors and recipients through its Web site.

UNOS President Francis L. Delmonico does not think the agency can legislate or regulate how people get to know each other. Once someone decides they want to save another person, Delmonico says UNOS should not stop them, as long as they are medically suitable, are not violating the law and are fully informed.

Source: Rob Stein, "Search for Transplant Organs Becomes a Web Free-for-All," Washington Post, September 23, 2005.

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