updated 6/16/2004 9:08:57 AM ET 2004-06-16T13:08:57

The group that sets U.S. hospital accreditation standards unveiled proposals Tuesday to close a growing gap between the number of people willing to donate their organs and those who need transplants.

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One strategy would urge hospitals to halt the common practice of seeking a family member’s consent for organ donation if the would-be donor has already registered to donate after death, according to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

About 85,000 people are on waiting lists to receive an organ such as a liver or kidney, and some 6,000 people a year die while awaiting transplants, the United Network for Organ Sharing says. Both figures are at their highest levels since donation lists began.

“Until supply catches up with demand, we’ll have a growing public health problem,” said Dennis O’Leary, president of the joint commission, which held a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

Issue of consent
Laws in 39 states say no consent from the next of kin is needed if donors declared their intention to donate, according to the report.

“We’ve seen far too many times when ... the family’s views on donation may actually trump the decision of the donor,” said Ronald Davis, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Henry Ford Health System.

But O’Leary said hospitals fear the bad publicity and threat of a lawsuit if they move forward without consent.

The commission’s report also recommends studying disparities in transplantation rates among ethnic groups. For example, the report says black patients wait an average of 1,603 days for a kidney transplant, versus 675 days for whites.

The report says the disparity largely is because there are fewer black donors to match organs with recipients.

Recent efforts to educate minorities led to a 24 percent increase in blacks donating organs last year and a 20 percent increase in Hispanic donors, according to Elizabeth Duke, administrator of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

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