Transplants: Why Demand Exceeds Supply

October 5, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus


Improvements in anti-rejection drugs and surgical procedures have led to a boom in organ transplants. But the increase has exacerbated the already short supply of available organs, raising a wide variety of ethical issues. Who should get the scarce organs? How should the decisions be made? Are transplants a cost-effective use of medical resources? Should the use of certain tissue, such as that from aborted fetuses, be restricted? As transplants become even more routine—but not necessarily less costly—such questions will get only harder to answer.

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Over the past decade and a half, improved medications and surgical procedures have transformed many organ and tissue transplants from exotic to almost routine medical events. Demand for transplants—particularly of kidneys, hearts, livers and lungs—has soared as a result. The trouble is that the supply of suitable organs has consistently fallen short of demand.

The United Network for Organ Sharing in Richmond, Va., says there are about 21,500 people in the United States on its registry of patients awaiting donated organs. The organization estimates that 25 percent to 30 percent of all persons awaiting a heart, lung, liver or heart-lung transplant will die before a suitable donor organ is found. The Health Insurance Association of America reports that at the end of fiscal 1988, 929 patients were waiting for a heart transplant, up from 300 in 1986. According to the association, 515 patients died before a heart transplant donor could be found.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Jun. 24, 2022  Organ Trafficking
Jul. 19, 2011  Organ Trafficking
Apr. 15, 2011  Organ Donations
Feb. 21, 2003  Organ Shortage
Aug. 11, 1995  Organ Transplants
Oct. 05, 1990  Transplants: Why Demand Exceeds Supply
Jul. 08, 1983  Renaissance in Organ Transplants
May 24, 1968  Heart Surgery and Transplants
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