69 vs. 70: Bias towards older organ donors can cost lives

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By Cara Murez

Health Day Reporter

MONDAY, November 21, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The difference between ages 69 and 70 is, of course, just a single year.

But organizations that receive organs for transplant patients are less likely to choose one of the older donors, a new study finds.

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

This is called left-digit bias, which unconsciously places importance on the first digit of a number — say, 7 out of 70 — and has been linked to ageism, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California, San Francisco.

While previous research had noted this bias when using donor kidneys, the researchers wondered if this would happen when other organs were included.

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

“We were interested in exploring how we could make small changes to optimize our current supply of deceased donor organs, with the goal of both serving those patients on the waiting list and honoring the gift of life given to those donors offer,” she said in a press release from the university.

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

“This proven bias is not confined to a single transplant center, [organ procurement organization] or even part of the transplant process and is seen across all organ types,” Jacobson said. “In our role as stewards of these gifted organs, and for all patients awaiting transplantation, interventions must target each step in the transplantation process to overcome our biased thinking.”

The same left digit was not significant when selecting organs when the donors were 59 years old compared to 60 years, the researchers found. Jacobson said other factors, such as weight, blood counts and other health issues, could be given more consideration when the donors are younger.

The results were recently published in the American Journal of Surgery.

More information

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

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



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