Swaps and Chains and Vouchers, Oh My!: Evaluating How Saving More Lives Impacts the Equitable Allocation of Live Donor Kidneys
52 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2018 Last revised: 27 Aug 2018
Date Written: June 12, 2018
Live kidney donation involves a delicate balance between saving the most lives and maintaining a transplant system that is fair to the many thousands of patients on the transplant waiting list. Federal law and regulations require that kidney allocation be equitable, but the pressure to save patients subject to ever-lengthening waiting times for a transplant has been swinging the balance toward optimizing utility at the expense of justice.
This article traces the progression of innovations created to make optimum use of a patient’s own live donors. It starts with the simplest – direct donation by family members – and ends with voucher donations, a very recent and unique innovation because the donor can donate 20 or more years before the intended recipient is expected to need a kidney. In return for the donation, the intended recipient receives a voucher that can be redeemed for a live donor kidney when it is needed. Other innovations that are discussed include kidney exchanges and list paired donation, which are used to facilitate donor swaps when donor/recipient pairs have incompatible blood types.
The discussion of each new innovation shows how the equity issues build on each other and how, with each new innovation, it becomes progressively harder to find an acceptable balance between utility and justice. The article culminates with an analysis of two recent allocation methods that have the potential to save many additional lives, but also affirmatively harm some patients on the deceased donor waiting list by increasing their waiting time for a life-saving kidney. The article concludes that saving additional lives does not justify harming patients on the waiting list unless that harm can be minimized. It also proposes solutions to minimize the harm so these new innovations can equitably perform their intended function of stimulating additional transplants and extending the lives of many transplant patients.
Keywords: Kidney, transplant, equitable, kidney chain, voucher, advertising, direct donation, list paired donation, advanced donation program, deceased donor waiting list, organ transplant, live kidney donation, trolley problem, UNOS, National Kidney Registry
JEL Classification: Z18, Z19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation