“Despite continuing advances in medicine and technology, the demand for organs drastically outstrips the number of organ donors,” states a United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) fact sheet. UNOS is a nonprofit charitable organization that, under the authority of the federal government, maintains the United States’ organ transplant waiting list and works to develop organ transplantation policies and raise awareness about organ donation. According to UNOS, the chronic shortage of organ donors is the most critical issue facing the field of organ transplantation. While 22,854 lifesaving organ transplant operations were performed in 2000, over fifty-eight hundred people died while waiting for a transplant— an average of more than fifteen every day. In February 2002, there were over seventy-nine thousand patients waiting for an organ transplant, up from less than fifty-five thousand in 1996. Factors behind the organ shortage
Ironically, the increasing success rate of organ transplant procedures is one reason that organ transplant waiting lists have risen so dramatically since the late 1980s. The first organ transplants, performed in the late 1950s and 1960s, were characterized by high mortality rates; a major problem was that patients’ immune systems often rejected the foreign organ. The introduction of the drug cyclosporine in the 1980s helped mitigate this problem, and organ transplants subsequently became less experimental and more routine. Statistics indicate that in 1998 organ transplant procedures were successful 70 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the organ being transplanted. With these increasing success rates, more doctors have recommended the procedures. Another factor behind the organ shortage is that, according to UNOS, “relatively few deaths occur under circumstances that make [cadaveric] organ donation possible.” There are two main types of organ donation: living-donor donation and cadaveric donation. Kidney transplants make up 95 percent of...
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