Organ Recipients Face Death or Disease

"People need to know what they are getting into," she said.

Transplant surgeon Johnson agrees that the average patient may not have a "sophisticated" medical background and relies on the doctor to assess potential risks. That, too, can be problematic.

"You impose your own bias on them and force them into a decision that may not be right for them," Johnson said.

"It's a really hard decision what to do with the poor guy in the ICU on a breathing machine hours away from death's door," he said. "An organ comes up and you talk to the family and make a decision, and the guy wakes up and we tell him we gave him a high-risk organ, and he says he didn't want it."

Still, Johnson argues those risks are relatively small. "Most patients who get organ transplants die of natural causes," he said. "The organs are out-living the patients."

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