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Pennsylvania plans to reward organ donation

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7195.1371 (Published 22 May 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1371
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. Florida

    Pennsylvania is planning to be the first US state to offer a financial reward for organ donation. The state will pay a stipend of about $300 (£187) towards the funeral expenses of an organ donor under a plan being worked out by an advisory panel.

    The panel will issue its recommendations next month, and Republican Governor Tom Ridge is expected to approve the new programme. Payments authorised by Pennsylvania's Act 102 of 1994 will be made directly to funeral homes, rather than to the family of the organ donor. This is being done to avoid violating the federal National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, which classifies human organs as a national resource and bars their sale.

    Howard Nathan, who serves on the governor's advisory panel and is president of Gift of Life Program, one of two regional networks that distributes donated organs in Pennsylvania, said, “This is absolutely not buying or selling organs. This is about [providing] a voluntary death benefit for a family who gave a gift. The intent is to test it and see if it makes a difference to families.”

    The stipends will be paid from an organ donor trust fund which currently has funds totalling $800000. The payment programme will be monitored for three years by a panel of medical ethicists to see whether it increases the number of organs that are donated.

    According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 56716 people were waiting for hearts, lungs, livers, pancreases, and kidneys at the end of 1997. By the end of 1998 the list had grown to 64423.

    Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, wrote in an article in the New York Times that “thousands die waiting … it is imperative this crisis be addressed … the only realistic solution is to greatly enlarge the pool of potential organ donors to accommodate the need.”


    Embedded Image

    A park in western Pennsylvania has been dedicated to organ donors and their families

    Credit: CENTER FOR ORGAN RECOVERY EDUCATION (CORE) PENNSYLVANIA

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