Transplantation Risks and the Real World: What Does ‘High Risk’ Really Mean?

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Abstract

Candidates for, and recipients of, transplants face numerous risks that receive varying degrees of attention from the media and transplant professionals. Characterizations such as ‘high risk donor’ are not necessarily accurate or informative unless they are discussed in context with the other risks patients face before and after transplantation. Moreover, such labels do not provide accurate information for informed consent discussions or decision making. Recent cases of donor-transmitted diseases from donors labeled as being at ‘high risk’ have engendered concern, new policy proposals and attempts to employ additional testing of donors. The publicity and policy reactions to these cases do not necessarily better inform transplant candidates and recipients about these risks. Using comparative risk analysis, we compare the various risks associated with waiting on the list, accepting donors with various risk characteristics, posttransplant survival and everyday risks we all face in modern life to provide some quantitative perspective on what ‘high risk’ really means for transplant patients. In our analysis, donor-transmitted disease risks are orders of magnitude less than other transplantation risks and similar to many everyday occupational and recreational risks people readily and willingly accept. These comparisons can be helpful for informing patients and guiding future policy development.

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