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Dilemmas in Organ Donation

 Dilemmas Cited In Removing Organs

 January 17, 2001

 CHICAGO (AP) - Deciding you want to donate your organs after death is no guarantee it will
 happen, especially if your relatives object.

 A government survey of the nation's 61 organ procurement organizations found wide variations in
 how they decide whether to remove organs from the dead for transplant. Just 29 of the groups
 have an official policy on whether to follow the wishes of the deceased or of family members.

 If a person had indicated in a living will or on a donor card that he wanted to be a donor but his
 survivors opposed it, only seven groups - 12 percent - said they would probably remove the

 Fifty-two of the groups surveyed - 85 percent - said they rarely have documentation of the
 deceased's wishes. And when they do, 51 of them - 84 percent - said families do not always go
 along with the deceased's wishes.

 Every state has adopted some form of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which favors the wishes
 of donors. But Susan Gunderson, president of the Association of Organ Procurement
 Organizations, said laws generally give wide latitude to procurement groups.

 The private organizations surveyed in 1999 are in charge of organ procurement from cadavers
 throughout the country. The survey was done by Dave Wendler and Neal Dickert of the National
 Institutes of Health's department of clinical bioethics and was published in Wednesday's Journal of
 the American Medical Association.

 Procuring organs from the deceased is a delicate process, fraught with emotion for all involved,
 said Phil Van Stavern of the Oklahoma Organ Sharing Network, one of the procurement groups.

 Typically, the prospective donor has died suddenly and unexpectedly. Procurement coordinators
 often enter the scene in the hospital waiting room, where survivors have just learned of their loved
 one's death.

 ``The family's in shock, they're grieving, and we're being very invasive,'' Van Stavern said.
 Defying the family's wishes under such circumstances is very difficult, he said.

 To ease the process, prospective donors should ``make sure they tell their family what their
 wishes are,'' both orally and in writing, Van Stavern said.

 The findings come amid efforts to address the nation's scarce supply of transplant organs.

 In 1999, for example, 6,448 of 72,255 people on transplant waiting lists died by the end of the
 year while awaiting an organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which runs the
 nation's transplant network.

 A national debate has focused on how to distribute donated organs, but most people agree that
 the best solution is to increase donation. In a JAMA editorial, University of Southern California
 ethicist Alexander Capron said the survey bolsters suggestions that weaknesses in the
 procurement process have contributed to the shortage.

 Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.