The Ethics of Organ Transplants: The Current Debate

By Arthur L. Caplan; Daniel H. Coelho | Go to book overview
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31. Racial Equity in
Renal Transplantation:
The Disparate Impact of
HLA-Based Allocation

Robert Gaston, Ian Ayres, Laura Dooley,
and
Arnold Diethelm

Kidney transplantation from either a living related or cadaveric donor is optimal treatment for most patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). 1 However, due to a critical shortage of organ donors, while more than 23,000 Americans await a suitable cadaveric kidney, fewer than 8,000 receive transplants each year. 2,3 Approximately one-third of ESRD patients in this country are African American (black), a proportion threefold greater than the representation of this racial group in the general population (12 percent).1 Recently, the Inspector General reported that blacks are less likely than whites to receive a transplant, with almost double the waiting time. 4 Currently, cadaveric kidneys are allocated according to a federally mandated system based on quality of HLA matching. This policy is based on evidence that antigenic similarity between donor and recipient may enhance cadaveric graft survival and should be the primary factor influencing distribution. 5 Gjertson and colleagues 6 have proposed that there be even greater emphasis on HLA matching in organ allocation, with all cadaveric kidneys to be placed in a single national pool and distributed to the transplant candidate with the "best" HLA match. In the face of a critical (and growing) shortage of transplantable kidneys, current directives place potential black recipients at a significant disadvantage; extension of HLA-based allocation will magnify racial disparity. We contend that all suitable renal transplant candidates should have equitable access to cadaveric kidneys. To the extent that HLA matching demonstrably improves survival of cadaveric renal allografts, it is an efficient means to effect difficult allocative choices. But, given its documented negative impact on black ESRD patients, the system must be reevaluated to determine whether the cost in equity is truly

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Originally published in JAMA 270, no. 11 ( September 15, 1993): 1352-56.

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