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Bill Sent to Bush Encourages Organ Donation

Congress sent to the president Thursday legislation aimed at encouraging organ donations by reimbursing organ donors for travel and other nonmedical expenses involved in transplant surgery.

By increasing organ donations (search), said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon, "we can literally save hundreds and indeed thousands of lives... I believe patients and families will soon benefit from this very important legislation."

The Senate approved the legislation by voice vote a day after the House passed it 414-2.

The legislation would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (search) to spend $5 million a year, beginning Oct. 1, to reimburse qualified donors.

It authorizes an additional $15 million in 2005 for grants to states, public awareness efforts and studies on how to increase recovery and donation rates. It also would finance new programs at hospitals and organ procurement organizations to coordinate organ donations.

Living donors now outnumber the traditional source of organs - cadavers. Of the 6,808 living donors in 2003, the vast majority gave a kidney, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (search). Segments of the liver, lungs, pancreas and, rarely, the intestine, also can be taken from a live donor.

More than 84,000 people nationwide are now awaiting donations, the organ procurement group said. Every day, 68 people receive organ transplants, but another 18 die while waiting for a donor match, according to HHS.

"This is a life-or-death legislation for thousands of people on waiting lists," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.