Transplant Milestone Comes Amid Fierce Criticism

US logs its millionth organ transplant amid calls for improvement to national system
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 10, 2022 11:25 AM CDT
48 Years After First Kidney, US Hits the 1M Milestone
File photo of an organ transplant surgery.   (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The US counted its millionth organ transplant on Friday, a milestone that comes at a critical time for Americans still desperately waiting for that chance at survival. It took decades from the first success—a kidney in 1954—to transplant 1 million organs, and officials can't reveal if this latest was a kidney, too, or some other organ, per the AP. Advocates opened a new campaign to speed the next million transplants by encouraging more people to register as organ donors, but the nation’s transplant system is at a crossroads. More people than ever are getting new organs—a record 41,356 last year alone. At the same time, critics blast the system for policies and outright mistakes that waste organs and cost lives.

The anger boiled over last month in a Senate committee hearing where lawmakers blamed the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that holds a government contract to run the transplant system, for cumbersome organ-tracking and poor oversight. “This is sitting on your hands while people die,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, told the organization’s chief executive as she and other senators suggested UNOS should be replaced. UNOS continually takes steps to improve organ supply and equity and won't be satisfied until everyone who needs a transplant gets one, CEO Brian Shepard responded.

Other experts say the fireworks are a distraction from work already underway. "Everybody would like the system to be better,” said Renee Landers, a Suffolk University health law expert who, as part of an independent scientific advisory panel to the government, co-authored a blueprint for change earlier this year. That blueprint, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, sets a five-year deadline for improving every part of the complex transplant system—including the groups that collect organs from deceased donors, transplant centers that decide which ones to use, and the government agencies that regulate both.

  • In the US, more than 400,000 people are living with functioning transplanted organs, UNOS said Friday.
  • For all the lives saved each year, more than 105,000 people are on the national list still waiting for a new kidney, liver, heart, or other organ, and about 17 a day die waiting.
  • Too often potentially usable organs aren’t recovered from would-be donors and too many hospitals turn down less-than-perfect organs that might still offer a good outcome for the right patient, the National Academies report found.
  • Kidneys are the organ most in demand, and nearly a quarter of those donated last year were discarded, refused by hospitals for a variety of reasons.
(Read more organ transplants stories.)

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