LOS ANGELES – Last year alone, 6,387 people on America's transplant list died without ever receiving a donated organ. Now a new private group wants to change these odds – at least for its own members.
Dave Undis is on a crusade to change the way donated organs are dispensed.
Undis wants to save lives, but said people don't want a faceless group of doctors deciding who gets their kidneys.
He's started a group called LifeSharers (search), a national organ-donor pool whose members will get first crack at each other's organs before they are made available to the general public. The group already has 820 members signed up.
"Everyday, people are dying and putting perfectly good organs into the ground rather than sharing them with their neighbors and saving lives," he said.
But the swapping idea doesn't sit well with people who currently allocate donated organs.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (search) allows donors to name an individual recipient, but not a group of people. UNOS and others in the medical community say medical concerns should be the first and only factor in deciding who gets an organ, not membership in a club.
"I think we all across the community support the principle behind it but there are very grave misgivings about the practice of trying to limit the pool of donated organs," said Tom Mone, executive director of One Legacy Procurement Center, the biggest organ procurement organization in Southern California and part of the UNOS network.
LifeSharers is not a medical organization and needs the cooperation of UNOS, which refuses to recognize the group. So if a member has died, UNOS would ignore the donor's wish and find a recipient from the national pool.
"I think the opposition to LifeSharers is unwarranted and I think it's going to slowly but surely disappear as our organization grows," Undis said.
No LifeSharers members have died yet, but when one does the fight over their organs is almost sure to end up in court. Club member or not, those who need a life-saving heart or liver transplant can't wait around long to find out how a judge decides to rule.