The U.S. liver donation system hasn’t decided whether to start its redistribution of the organs, a proposal that is likely to mean fewer livers for Georgia patients and more for states such as New York.
But it could, at least for now.
A federal appeals court has ruled that while the court fight goes on, the new liver distribution system can begin. If the final court decision goes against the proposed redesign, the system would just return to how it currently operates. The United Network for Organ Sharing is the organization that runs the national organ distribution system, under contract to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
The new policy’s aim is to provide livers to the sickest patients, rather than those who can wait a little longer but are closer. It would loosen geographic barriers for organ donation in a way that would likely send more Georgia livers to patients outside the state.
The current system of distributing donated livers to patients in the U.S. is widely viewed as flawed. Under the current system, a liver donated in South Carolina could not travel the few miles across the border to a Georgia patient in need because the two states are in separate regions.
Instead, the liver would sit, aging, while each transplant hospital in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia first decided whether it wanted the organ.
But Georgia patient advocates say UNOS’ proposal to replace that system is also flawed. They say it was developed using wait list data that didn’t take into account how ill-served poor and rural Georgians are slow to get put on organ waiting lists.
UNOS says that even though it has temporary permission, it hasn’t decided whether to flip the switch on the new distribution system. In a notice sent to health caregivers Thursday night, UNOS said it would give them 14 days’ notice before it makes any changes.
UNOS knows the final resolution of the court fight is a long way away, and it has already been slapped down once when it started redistribution in May. A federal judge, in an icy ruling, made it go back to the previous system.
And even this temporary order can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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