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Nephron Clin Pract. 2009;111(1):c62-7; discussion c68. doi: 10.1159/000180121. Epub 2008 Dec 5.

The challenge of doing what is right in renal transplantation: balancing equity and utility.

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  • 1Regional Nephrology Unit, Belfast City Hospital, Belfast, UK. aecourtney@doctors.org.uk


Arguably the greatest challenge faced by the transplant community is the disparity between the number of persons waiting for a solid organ transplant and the finite supply of donor organs. For renal transplantation the gap between supply and demand has risen annually reflecting the increasing prevalence of end-stage renal disease versus the relatively static deceased donor organ pool. Maximising the benefit from this scarce resource raises difficult ethical issues. For most patients on dialysis therapy a successful transplant offers improved quality and quantity of life, but the absolute gain in survival provided by a donated organ varies greatly depending on recipient factors such as age and co-morbid illnesses. The philosophies of equity (a fair opportunity for everyone in need to receive a transplant) and utility (optimal profit from each organ) are often competing. National allocation schemes and local policies regarding assessment of potential recipients and acceptance of organs are designed to balance these ethical principles in a standardized and socially acceptable manner. The ongoing debate surrounding these issues and modifications to such policies reflect the evolving clinical picture of renal transplantation and the challenge in maintaining equipoise between renal transplant utility and equity.

Copyright 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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