It turns out that the likelihood of receiving a lifesaving organ transplant has more to do with wealth than it does the urgency of the transplant. Wealthier individuals are able to register with multiple organ transplant centers in order give them an edge over others.

According to research that was conducted on the national database of organ donors from 2000 to 2013, patients who registered at multiple transplant centers had higher rates of receiving a transplant than those who were only registered at one. These people who registered at multiple centers typically had more money and better insurance.

Lead author of the study Dr. Raymond Givens said, “It’s an effective approach to address long waiting times and the shortage of organs available for the increasing demand among transplant candidates. But it undermines a bedrock principle of organ transplantation, which is that the sickest people should be transplanted first. We firmly believe the multiple listing policy needs to be reconsidered.”

The researchers conducting the study examined the database of the United Network for Organ Sharing in order to identify adult patients who were first-time, single-organ candidates looking for a new heart, lung, liver or kidney. They found thousands of patients waiting for the organs to become available.  

Their findings showed that patients with more money had advantages because of associated travel costs that are not necessarily covered by health insurance. Additionally, patients with state-provided Medicaid typically had lower income, and they were often unable to register at multiple transplant centers.

Givens said, “The main issue is supply and demand. The need for donor organs increases yearly; the supply does not. We really need more people to volunteer to donate their organs. That would relieve a lot of the strain on these inequalities. From a policy perspective, there is a need to redesign the system of organ allocation to ensure fairer access.”

It just goes to show that wealthier people have an advantage over poor people, sadly even when it comes to matters of life and death.

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