Richard Bonnie
Gil Siegal

Closing the Organ Gap: A Reciprocity-Based Social Contract Approach

Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics


Organ transplantation remains one of modern medicine’s remarkable achievements. It saves lives, improves quality of life, diminishes healthcare expenditures in end-stage renal patients, and enjoys high success rates. Yet the promise of transplantation is substantially compromised by the scarcity of organs. The gap between the number of patients on waiting lists and the number of available organs continues to grow. As of January 2006, the combined waiting list for all organs in the United States was 90,284 (64,933, 17,269, and 3,006 for kidney, liver, and heart respectively). Unfortunately, thousands of potential organs are lost each year, primarily due to lack of consent to donation from the deceased before death, or from the family thereafter. Only fifty percent of potential donors – the “conversion” rate – become actual donors. The costs attributed to organ shortage are substantial – Medicare paid over $15.5 billion in 2002 for treating patients with end-stage renal-disease, who predominate on organ waiting lists. 


Richard J. Bonnie & Gil Siegal, Closing the Organ Gap: A Reciprocity-Based Social Contract Approach, 34 Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics 415-423 (2006).

More in This Category