Drop in accident numbers has unintended side-effect: fewer donated organs

| 8/21/2003

Everyone who spends much time behind the wheel celebrates the fact that deaths on the road are decreasing.

But that very happy news has an unintended side effect – the number of organ donors is dropping.

The New York Times reported Aug. 19 that the drop in accident deaths and other violent deaths has worsened the shortage of donated organs nationwide, especially from younger donors.

"In my field, we make morbid jokes about repealing the seat belt laws and air bag laws and gun-control laws," Dr. Jonathan Bromberg of Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Medical Center told The Times with a deep sigh. "I guess we're kind of the ghouls of medicine."

Particularly in short supply are younger donors, who experts say are likely to have more organs that can be transplanted because their bodies are in better shape than older donors. From 1994 to 2002, the number of organ donors who were victims of accidents or homicides rose 3 percent; among people under 18 years old, it dropped 28 percent, The Times reported.

No one wants more accidents on the road. But because so many people waiting for transplants depend on donated organs, the government has taken action. In late 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services announced $5.2 million in grants to research ways to encourage more people to sign organ donor cards and other methods to increase the number of organs available for transplants.

In addition to paying for studies to find ways to increase the number of possible organ donors by encouraging more people to volunteer their organs, other grants will go to scientists who are developing techniques that would increase the number of viable organs that could be recovered from a single donor.

“Every day 15 Americans die waiting for an organ transplant; this doesn't have to happen,” HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a statement.

While the totals number of fatal accidents has dropped over the past decade, during the past two years, the overall number of traffic deaths has risen. Deaths in accidents that involve trucks, however, are still dropping.

According to figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the trucking industry recorded its best highway safety improvement in nearly a decade, with a 2002 toll of 4,897 fatalities, a 4.2 percent decline from the 2001 figure and the first time truck-involved crash fatalities dropped below 5,000 since 1995.