Why living organ donations are so rare

Roughly 75,000 patients die annually waiting for an organ transplant, yet some physicians believe it doesn't have to be that way, according to an analysis published in Washington Monthly.

Here are five things to know:

1. The U.S. has long targeted marketing and educational efforts toward deceased donations. However, only 54 percent of adults are registered organ donors, according to HHS data cited in the analysis.

2. While living-donor liver transplants have a higher mortality rate for donors than kidney transplants, both are extremely low — 0.2 percent for liver transplants versus 0.03 percent for kidney transplants. The annual rate of living-donor liver transplants in the U.S. dropped after two widely publicized living-donor deaths in 2001. The next year, only 363 such transplants occurred in the U.S. But since 2014, the number has been growing.

3. Organ donors face many financial pressures in terms of lost wages, unpaid time off and travel costs. However, the U.S. Department of Labor on Sept. 4 issued an opinion letter telling companies organ donation is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Congress is reviewing a piece of legislation — The Living Donor Protection Act — which would officially amend this law to include organ donation.

4. Abhinav Humar, MD, clinical director of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, said most healthcare providers think of living donation as a last resort. He said UPMC believes living donation should be the first choice.

"Unfortunately, it's the best option we have right now," Dr. Humar told Washington Monthly.

5. The U.S. should remove barriers to organ donation and provide more incentives and protections for those making the "extraordinary sacrifice to save other people's lives," the analysis concludes.

Editor's note: This article was updated Sept. 7.

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