Healthcare News & Insights

Kidney transplant criteria may be slanted in favor of younger patients

The organization that oversees donated organ allocation is considering the largest overhaul of the system in a quarter of a century.

UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) has proposed changing the criteria used to decide which patient in need would get an available kidney.The new rules would emphasize matching patients and donor organs by factors such as age and health. The goal is to maximize the number of “useful” years the health system can get from the scarce resource. Under current guidelines, priority is given to the patients who have been waiting the longest.

The proposals were applauded by many health care professionals and bioethicists who see it as a way to improve organ distribution. Essentially, UNOS is strategically trying to save the most total years of human life, instead of performing a triage and saving the sickest first. But the changes come weighted down with many ethical questions. Some experts see it as de facto age discrimination.

As one doctor and bioethicist pointed out, patients over 50 could easily live another 20 years with a donated kidney — but the proposed change makes it less likely that those patients would receive such a “young” kidney.With an aging population in general, large segments of the patient pool could be out of luck when it comes to getting the healthiest donated kidneys.

Other proposed revisions are also being considered.

Is the proposal a good idea, or unfair to older patients? UNOS is accepting public comments until April 1.

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