A meeting of scholars at Princeton University resulted in the drafting of an open letter addressed to President Barack Obama, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Attorney General Eric Holder, and leaders of Congress. The letter is independent of any organization. Among the initiating signers are NIr Eyal and Robert Truog of Harvard University, Peter Singer at Princeton University, Michele Goodwin at the University of California Irvine, Ruth Macklin of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Lloyd E. Ratner, MD, Director, Renal and Pancreatic Transplantation, Department of Surgery, Columbia University Medical Center and The Reverend Gary Hall Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington.

The letter describes the current state of organ transplantation in the United States and invites individuals to add their signatures. Every year, nearly 35,000 patients join the waiting list for kidneys; right now there are more than 100,000 people waiting. Every year, nearly 7,000 of these patients die before receiving a transplant or become too ill to undergo the procedure.

Organ transplants save lives and reduce healthcare costs. A successful kidney transplant saves Medicare $55,000 every year for each year the patient continues to live. These savings are due to the reduction in dialysis use. However, there are not sufficient methods in place to protect or increase organ donation.

The main purpose of the letter is to call for pilot studies to test the efficacy of certain organ procurement methods. These methods would offer organ donors various benefits: life-long health care, tax credits, pension contributions, charitable contributions, disability and life insurance for living donors, and funeral benefits for deceased donors. It also recommends providing living donors with priority transplant status if that individual was ever in need of an organ.

This action is motivated by the current kidney failure epidemic: over 600,000 patients suffer from End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), “a condition that, left untreated, results quickly in death.” The standard treatment for ESRD is dialysis. However,dialysis is not a permanent solution and it is quite costly and draining for the patient. Kidney transplantation is the preferred treatment option and provides a longer life span.

Certain discriminatory patterns in the organ donation process have recently raised eyebrows. Ethnic minorities are more likely to need transplants, but are less likely to receive them or be referred to transplant centers. For those minorities that do make it onto the waiting lists, African Americans and Hispanics wait around 40% to 50%longer to receive a kidney than Caucasians do.

Additionally, despite recent efforts, little progress has been made in reducing wait times on kidney transplant lists. The average wait time in 2009 for a kidney was 2.8 years;currently, patients can expect to wait 4.3 years. The need for kidneys has dramatically increased for various reasons, and this greater demand has not been met by similar increases in supply.

The open letter firmly calls upon President Barack Obama, the Attorney General, Health and Human Services, and Congress to change legislation and allocate funding to create real, impact change on kidney disease.

The letter was signed by over 300 health and transplant professionals, ethicists, and religious leader among others including Charles Debrovner, M.D. President of Global Bioethics Initiative (GBI) and Ana Lita, Ph.D. Executive Director.

Click here to add your name.