One-third of patients waiting on the lengthy transplant list are ineligible for an organ transplant because they are either too sick or not sick enough, according to statistics kept by the national network that manages organ allocation. United Network for Organ Sharing oversees the transplant system under a federal contract.
"It's unfair. It's simply unacceptable," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "You got people waiting who deserve better than to be stuck on an inactive list, and it's deceptive. You can't have one-third of the list out there that doesn't really belong."
The news is sobering for people like 11-year-old Lia Cirelli and her father Orazio Cirelli. Doctors diagnosed Lia with acute liver failure this week and now the young girl, who's being treated at the Yale Medical Center in New Haven, Conn., is in need of a transplant.
"It's such a short time period that she has before it gets terminally worse," her father said. "The only thing I would really like is for me and my daughter to leave [Yale Medical Center] together."
The Cirellis hope a miracle in the form of the transplant comes soon for ailing Lia, who is one of 98,000 people on the transplant list.
Critics argue potential organ recipients, like Lia, are being forced to languish on the list while others who are ineligible continue to retain a spot, and they believe UNOS isn't managing the list properly.
Caplan said the organization is giving people a false sense of supply and demand, which could negatively affect organ donations by undermining confidence in the system.
"You can't inflate the numbers," Caplan said. "You risk alienating people and having them not support organ donation because they say the system doesn't play fair."
But UNOS refutes such arguments and said some people on the list only remain inactive or ineligible, temporarily.
"They're not putting people on a list to inflate a need. The need is there," said UNOS president Tim Pruett. "The overall thrust is that we're working against a clock. Our role is not to clear people off the list. Our role is to get people transplants, so they can live more normal lives."