69 against. 70: Bias against older organ donors could cost lives

by Cara Murez

Heilsudag reporter

MONDAY Nov. 21, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Of course, the difference between the ages of 69 and 70 is just one year.

Yet organizations that receive organs for transplant patients are less likely to choose one from an older donor, a new study finds.

US organ procurement and transplant centers were about 5% less likely to select or accept organs from 70-year-old donors than from those who died at age 69.

This is called a left-digit bias, which unconsciously places value on the first digit in a number — 7 out of 70, for example — and is linked to ageism, according to researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of California, San Francisco.

While previous studies have found this bias in the use of donor kidneys, researchers wondered if it would happen if other organs were included.

“Donated organs are a vital resource, but there are far more people on the waiting list than there are organs available,” said co-author Dr. Clare Jacobson, a general surgeon resident at the University of Michigan Health, in Ann Arbor.

“We were interested in looking at how we could make small changes to maximize our current supply of deceased organs, with the goal of both serving patients on the waiting list and honoring the gift of life these donors provide,” she said in a university news release.

For the study, the researchers used data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system. That the centers were 5% less likely to choose organs from 70-somethings suggests that about 1 in 18 donors will be rejected altogether, Jacobson said.

“This demonstrated bias is not limited to one transplant center, [organ procurement organization] or even step into the transplant process and be seen between organ types,” Jacobson said. “In our role as stewards of these gifted organs and for all patients awaiting transplant, interventions must target each step of the transplant process to overcome our prejudicial thinking.”

This same left digit bias was not significant in organ selection when donors were 59 years old compared to 60 years old, the researchers found. Jacobson said other factors such as weight, blood work and other health issues may receive more consideration when donors are younger.

The results were recently published in American Journal of Surgery.

More information

Organdonor.gov has more on organ, eye and tissue donation.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, press release, Nov. 16, 2022

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