How Risky Are Live Organ Donations?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The New York state health department released a report this week saying that an organ transplant recipient contracted HIV from a kidney donation at a New York hospital. It’s the nation’s first documented case of HIV transmission via a living donor transplant since the 1980s. How did this happen? And what are the repercussions? 

According to the report, the male organ donor had unprotected sex after he was screened for HIV, about 12 weeks before he donated the organ. Both the donor and recipient were diagnosed with HIV a year after the successful transplant operation.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is responding with a recommendation that transplant centers nationwide screen living donors for HIV no more than seven days before their organs are recovered and transplanted.

But the case also raises questions about the ethics of living donor transplants – and how upfront both recipients and donors are about the risks involved.

Joining us to talk about those risks is Arthur Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.


Dr. Arthur Caplan

Produced by:

Kateri A. Jochum

Comments [1]


On one hand, I'm glad someone is addressing this incident. On the other, focusing on the fact a recipient experienced something adverse as a reult of a living organ donation ignores the risk to living donors themselves.

4.4 living kidney donors die every year in the US within 12 months of surgery (OPTN data). Many others experience a plethora of complications. 20-30% suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD yet not a single transplant program offers structured mental health services.

Living donors are told their medical bills will be paid by the recipient's insurance yet insurance policies regularly put caps or time limits on a living donor's care. As a result, an LKD in MI can't afford a needed hernia surgery, and an LKD in Ohio who was rehospitalized twice for complications is forced to have a fundraiser to pay her medical bills.

There is no long-term comprehensive data on living donors' health and well-being. No one bothered to collect social security numbers until 1994. Since 2000, OPTN has required one year of followup (expanded to 2 yrs in 2006) yet at least 30% of living donors are reported lost by one-year and some centers report ALL their LDs as lost, so they're not even trying.

Meanwhile, reduced renal function is associated with a lifetime higher risk of hypertension, cardiac disease and death, and kidney disease and death.

If you want to discuss the risk of live organ donations, stop focusing on the recipient. Living donors are people too, and we deserve the same consideration.

Mar. 18 2011 12:32 PM

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