Vanderbilt University Medical Center is preparing to have fewer organs to transplant, starting next week. Academic medical centers banded together to slow down a new distribution plan for donated livers, but they’ve failed to convince a federal judge to intervene ahead of what could be a lengthy court battle.
The new distribution map, created by the United Network for Organ Sharing, is supposed to get livers to the most critical patients (within 500 nautical miles) rather than the closest by. It’s a years-long effort to even the playing field because patients in the Southeast and Midwest have an easier time getting a match at the moment, which has resulted in Vanderbilt having one of the busiest transplant centers in the nation.
Some parts of the country have more patients and families willing to be organ donors and deaths from causes that allow the organs to be used. Those include car accidents and strokes. In Tennessee, the liver transplant waiting list has 235 people. For comparison with a state that has comparable population, Maryland has 744 on the liver list, according to UNOS.
Billie Cole of Knoxville is waiting on a liver for her husband at Vanderbilt and expects the new policy, which takes effect Feb. 4, will extend their time on the list.
“I understand there’s critical people in other states too,” Cole says. “But just from everything I’m reading and hearing, it seems like this is not quite fair, the way it’s all going down.”
Cole’s husband has been stabilizing, which she’s happy about. But that means under the new distribution plan, he’ll likely wait even longer as livers start going to the patient in the greatest need, as far away as Chicago.
But the agency overseeing the policy says fairness is precisely what the new map should fix. UNOS calculates the policy should save more lives each year and decrease the numbers who die on the waiting list, though the agency says it will monitor the stats.
“No policy is ever final and unable to be adjusted,” UNOS spokesperson Anna Paschke says in a statement. “The [Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network] will carefully study the effects of the policy once implemented and will act quickly to address any unforeseen effects that may occur.”