National Kidney Foundation Supports Living Organ Donation Legislation Introduced by Congresswoman Thurman

New York, NY
May 26, 1999

Increasing the number of living organ donors is one way to help reduce the drastic and growing national organ shortage. Yet barriers exist as evidenced by surveys conducted by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) pointing out that more people would consider becoming living organ donors if the current financial disincentives were removed.

Speaking out on behalf of potential donors, NKF supports legislation introduced by Congresswoman Karen L. Thurman (D-FL) that would help address the organ shortage. H.R. 1857, the Living Organ Donation Incentives Act of 1999, is aimed at increasing the number of living organ donations.

"We know that living donors are faced with a loss of income due to time away from work needed for evaluation, surgery and recovery. This often makes it difficult to pay rents, mortgages and other bills," states Thurman, whose husband is a kidney transplant recipient. "There are also costs associated with their donation which are not reimbursable by Medicare, for example, travel, lodging, meals and child care. If we really want to increase the number of organ donations, we need to tear down some of these barriers. We need to address these financial disincentives," continues Thurman.

Thurman's legislation would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow living organ donation to qualify as a reason for taking time off work. This would include time spent for tests, evaluations, travel time and recuperation. In addition, this legislation would allow the Secretary of HHS to develop a grant program to aid individuals with the high costs associated with living organ donation.

Between 1988 and 1996, the number of people on the waiting list for an organ transplant increased by 312 percent and the number of wait list deaths increased 261 percent. Additionally, in 1996, a new name was added to the transplant waiting list every nine minutes. "The sad fact is that the disparity between the supply and demand of organs available for transplant contributes to the deaths of eleven people daily," says Thurman. "This is not just a problem--this is a health care crisis."

Transplantable organs are provided from two primary sources: brain-dead victims of trauma (non-living donation) or living organ donors (generally involving kidney or partial liver donations). Scientists and organ donation proponents alike believe that increasing the frequency of living organ donation would not only increase the availability of organs but also lessen the transplantation rejection rate and reduce costs associated with dialysis. "By removing some of the financial disincentives associated with living organ donation, Congress can ensure better graft survival rates, increase the number of organs available for transplantation, and reduce the costs associated with dialysis and repeat transplantation," says Thurman.

The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.