Lawmakers will consider a bill that could allow Kansas organ donors to specify whether they want their organs to go to transplant patients in the state.
The proposed legislation comes as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is poised to nationalize the system used to distribute livers for transplant, KCUR-FM reported. The federal health agency wants to scrap the existing system that distributes organs within regions after being sued by six transplant patients in California, New York and Massachusetts.
The geography-based system benefited states such as Kansas, where donor rates are around 80 percent, said Sean Kumer, a liver transplant surgeon at the University of Kansas Hospital. But New York and California are states where the need for donated organs is high, but donor rates are low.
Donor rates on the country's coasts are around 55 percent, Kumer said.
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U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Roy Blunt of Missouri said the new allocation system would disproportionately affect patients in rural areas.
"This shortsighted liver allocation policy . will not only mean fewer life-saving organs in our part of the country, but it will also adversely affect health outcomes throughout the Midwest," the senators said.
Kumer added that the new system should give preference to regions where higher percentages of patients are dying while awaiting transplant surgery. About 20 percent of liver transplant patients in Kansas die on the waiting list, compared to about 8 percent in New York, Kumer said.
"Our (mortality) numbers are going to increase and theirs are going to decrease and that's just not the way we should be running our system," Kumer said.
He said the legality of the proposed bill in Kansas will depend on whether the courts agree that an organ donation is a personal gift.
"It's a gift, not a natural resource," Kumer said. "Donors and their families . should have the choice of where they want their organs to go."