US Throws Away Thousands of Kidneys, While Thousands Die Waiting for Transplant; New Study Shows

Kidney failure is the ninth leading cause of the death nationwide. Thousands are sentenced to a lifetime of dialysis, to do the job their kidneys no longer can.

But while 5,000 Americans die waiting for a kidney transplant, 3,500 kidney donations are being thrown away in the U.S. every year.

A new study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that 17.9% of kidneys were discarded between 2004-2014.

The study blames stringent United States donation regulations. Many kidneys are trashed because they came from someone of old age, or with conditions like high blood pressure. The study says even kidneys of the worst possible quality still extend life.

“Even those kidneys can produce a very high quality of life,” said Dr. Stanifer, a nephrologist at the Traverse City Munson Dialysis Center. “What this study suggests, is if we liberalize our standards…we would have been able to transplant 17,000 more kidneys during this period of time.”

Some European countries, like France, have an “old-for-old” system, where kidneys from senior citizens are given to older patients. They also have less strict rules about kidney donations. The U.S. rejects twice as many kidneys as France.

Dr. Stanifer says patients on the donor waitlist should speak up for themselves, and ask their doctors about “extended-criteria” kidneys, or those that have comorbidities like high blood pressure.

Jim Lucius of Traverse City is one of 37 million people with kidney failure. He relies on dialysis three times a week. His doctors tell him it may be five more years before he can find a kidney donor.

“Dialysis isn’t a cure. So you have a certain amount of years before it gets bad,” said Lucius. “It’s the rest of your life. Until you get a kidney.”

Lucius says he would be more than happy to accept a flawed kidney if it meant extending his life.

“Once you attain this level, that you’re on dialysis, I’d want to accept it,” said Lucius.

Kidney advocacy groups and some politicians are working to change the regulations related to kidney transplants, but until then, the United States is spending $114 billion in treating kidney problems, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.