Big changes might be on the horizon for kidney transplants

DURHAM, NC (WECT) - The kidney is the most sought after organ for transplants and now UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, is looking to change their guidelines for who gets one and who does not get one - and when.

For over 20 years a system has been in place that determines organ recipient priority. However, during the same time span, the issue of balancing justice and utility has been kept abreast.

Lloyd Jordan, the CEO of Carolina Donor Services, said 'justice' means the person who has been on the organ waiting list the longest gets the organ. The person getting the organ could be elderly or in poorer health than someone who has been on the list a shorter period of time.

"Utility" would determine which recipient could get the maximum use of a donor kidney, a resource that is extremely scarce. This brings up a key factor in the new policy UNOS is considering.

To put a very intricate policy simply, some say it comes down to younger and healthier, versus older and sicker.

"Regardless of what happens with this policy in question, people will die because there just aren't enough organs," said Jordan. "You need to utilize the organs but not discriminate against any recipient. I would be extremely shocked if a policy decision was made by June of 2012."

Once a patient's kidney function hits 20 percent, they qualify to be on the organ waiting list.  The life expectancy for a patient living off dialysis treatments is estimated at seven years.

The policy is only up for discussion at this time, but a final decision could be made as early as June 2012.

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