New Delhi: There is insurance for doctor’s visits, cars and houses, but in coming months, there may be a type of insurance for your kidneys, heart and lungs, too.
Parth J. Shah, president of the Centre for Civil Society, a research and educational organization, is in the early stages of creating an organ donation programme—for members only.
Saving lives: A heart transplant surgery in process at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital. The Centre for Civil Society’s donor programme is modelled along the lines of US-based organization LifeSharers’ initiative
Based on the model of US non-profit LifeSharers, members would promise to donate their organs upon their death, and give fellow members first access for free. This would create a pool of donors. In return, those in the club would receive top priority if they ever need an organ.
“The idea is also to get non-family members to become active donors because families don’t always provide the right match,” said Shah.
Under the agreement, members would still retain the right to donate their organs to a family member first. In addition, said Shah, members would be assured that their organs would be donated legally. Now, Shah said, organ cards in India have no legal standing; family members can override the decision following death. India’s current laws governing organ donation have been accused by some non-profits of being too bureacratic and an impediment to saving lives.
The programme would be in addition to the existing national waitlist for organ donors, said Shah. The number of people who need organs in India is significant. According to officials from major transplant organizations, at least 100,000 people need kidney transplants, 30,000 need livers and 10,000 need hearts.
The Centre for Civil Society is now in the process of convincing non-governmental organizations and government-approved hospitals to join the group before it launches television, radio and print marketing campaigns to raise public awareness. Shah said he expects the programme to be up and running in three months.
“Organ donation requires a public interest which is currently not there. It’s just starting,” said O.P. Vaish, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, and past director of Rotary International worldwide. Vaish, 75, who is also a trustee of the Centre for Civil Society, recently decided to donate his organs to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and has expressed interest to Shah about working with him on LifeSharers.
In India, donors, many of whom are poor, are often promised payment in exchange for a kidney to supply the high demand from nationals and foreigners who want transplants in the country. Shah said this illegal black market for organs could largely disappear if his programme is instituted in India.
“People won’t pay for a kidney if they know they have a good chance they will get one for free from the club,” he said.
LifeSharers was started in the US in 2002 by David Undis, who recently retired from the insurance business in Tennessee. The programme now has more than 9,500 members scattered across all 50 states. However, no LifeSharers members have donated organs yet because no member has died in circumstances that would have permitted the recovery of their organs, said Undis.
The programme has drawn some criticism, including from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the US organization that oversees distribution of deceased donor organs. Critics say the approach would skirt the existing national system of giving organs to recipients based on medical urgency, distance between donor and recipient and time on the waiting list. But Undis says he believes his efforts will ultimately lead to more donors overall.
Undis said he does not know of any other countries that have started LifeSharers, but said he had talked to an Israeli group that was interested.
“I think this programme would be a good programme anywhere where there’s an organ shortage, and that means everywhere,” Undis said. “If you’re not willing to be an organ donor, you should go to the back of the line.”