Liver Allocation to Non-U.S. Citizen Non-U.S. Residents: An Ethical Framework for a Last-in-Line Approach

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Abstract

The incidence of non-U.S. citizen non-U.S. resident patients coming to the United States specifically for deceased donor liver transplantation raises compelling ethical questions that require careful consideration. The inclusion of these often financially and/or socially privileged patients in the pool of potential candidates for an absolutely scarce and life-saving liver transplant may exacerbate disparities already existing in deceased donor liver allocation. In addition, their inclusion on organ transplant waiting lists conflicts with recognized ethical principles of justice and reciprocity. Moreover, preliminary data suggest that public awareness of this practice could discourage organ donation, thereby worsening an already profound supply–demand gulf. Finally, U.S. organ allocation policies and statutes are out of step with recently promulgated international transplant guidelines, which prioritize self-sufficiency of organ programs. This article analyzes each of these ethical conflicts within the context of deceased donor liver transplantation and recommends policy changes that align the United States with international practices that discourage this scenario.

This viewpoint examines the current practice of providing deceased donor liver transplants to “non-U.S. citizen non-U.S. residents, here for transplantation” and argues that such patients present unresolvable ethical conflicts that support allocation of deceased donor livers to such patients only when the liver is unacceptable to U.S. residents. Read a related article from McEnhill et al on page 1827, and the editorial from Gordon and Gill on page 1645.

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