In April 2017, my 6-year-old son was killed when a speeding police car crashed into mine. Briefly, Joel Anthony was on life support and a UNM Hospital nurse introduced me to the amazing people at New Mexico Donor Services (NMDS), our community’s Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), who compassionately spoke to and educated me about organ donation. For me, this option lit a path of hope out of the darkest day of my life. NMDS orchestrated the organ transplants that allowed Joel Anthony to keep living through the lives of others.
But NMDS and the other OPOs across the country that make organ transplants happen are currently under threat from the Trump administration. We can’t let this happen.
There are 58 federally funded, community-based OPOs across the country, and they are essential to making organ transplants possible. The administration has proposed a rule – which would be governed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – that aims to fix underperforming OPOs by using arbitrary metrics to make them do better or face immediate decertification and replacement by the free market. Up to 75% of OPOs could be eliminated as a result. High-performing OPOs would be forced to pick up the slack because there are no for-profit entities qualified to take their place, and the rule provides no plan to establish them.
Making such a plan, much less putting it into action, takes time that families facing imminent tragedy do not have. In the communities that lose their OPO, people like those who received Joel Anthony’s organs probably would not be alive, and families experiencing devastating loss like mine would not have a chance at hope.
Today, Joel Anthony’s heart and liver give life to two other children. His kidneys help a man and a woman live, as well. His pancreas and lungs contributed to research and education that will help to save countless more lives. My son was such a loving little boy. Knowing that four people are alive and that their families know joy and hope because of Joel Anthony is a tremendous comfort. But the proposed rule could deny this opportunity for life to people who are gravely ill and deny comfort to grieving families.
I do not understand how a rule to improve a system that saves lives and gives meaning to lives lost could be so blind to the humanity of this issue. Organ donation and transplant are deeply personal. Donated organs are not products. They are gifts, given from the bodies of beloved mothers, fathers, sons and daughters on the most terrible day their grieving families could never have imagined. Yet the rule does not even mention organ donors, their families, or their experiences. OPO professionals are called to this difficult work, dedicated to helping people find hope during times of immeasurable loss. The administration is missing this point, reducing the measure of an OPO’s success to a bunch of numbers. Not only that, but our country’s organ transplant system already is recognized as the best in the world. Why on earth would the administration and CMS risk throwing it into shambles?
The administration must reconsider the detrimental effect OPO-bashing has on those of us who decided to donate and those who are considering it. Fact-based discussion to improve the system is always necessary because any system could use improving. But we have to look at the whole system, not just target one part of it.
I hope you will join me in urging the administration to change course. Please call your congressional representatives and ask them to insist that CMS improve our transplant system overall, not punish OPOs.
This critical, life-giving work requires knowledge, sensitivity and respect. We must support the OPOs that do it so they can support thousands of donor families and transplant recipients every year – like Joel Anthony and those he saved.