Organs for Transplant: Expanding Sources and Ethical Considerations

On March 9, the Schar School of Policy and Government hosted a research workshop exploring organ transplant policy. Convening scholars from both within and outside Mason, participants explored new avenues for research into the ethics, security, and disparity issues surrounding organ transplants. Topics ranged from organ trafficking and the implications of donor compensation to methodological modeling and trafficking prevention.

Associate Professor Naoru Koizumi, one of the workshop’s co-chairs, comes to the field of organ transplants through her methodological expertise in quantitative modeling and geospatial data visualization and analysis.

“I first became involved in this NIH-funded research by studying geographic and racial disparities in liver and kidney transplant access,” says Koizumi. “From there, my professional network grew and collaborations led me to explore disparities in access to different forms of dialysis care, kidney disease-related legislation, and global issues including organ trafficking and medical tourism.”

Koizumi worked with one of her public policy doctoral students, Mehdi Nayebpour, a veteran scholar with an operations research background. She took a leading role in organizing the logistics for the workshop and soliciting papers from different scholars.

“I was excited to work with one of our public policy doctoral students, Mehdi Nayebpour, who also has an operations research background, and came to the Schar School to do research on medical policy,” Koizumi continues.

“I came to Mason to apply my academic background in systems engineering to the study of the pharmaceutical industry,” explains Nayebpour. “Since beginning work with Professor Koizumi, my interests have broadened to organ transplant policy analysis. It was a perfect topic to dive into, since my home country of Iran is the only country in the world that allows and facilitates a legal framework for kidney sales.”

Currently Nayebpour is particularly interested in the ethical issues surrounding organ sales and policy comparison between surrogacy and kidney donation.

“It is surprising to discover that the U.S. legal framework for surrogacy is quite similar to kidney sale laws in Iran. My research focuses on the reasons for these similarities. It is fascinating that while financial compensation for surrogacy is widely accepted, monetary compensation for kidney donation is prohibited in most countries,” says Nayebpour. “As part of this study, I plan to apply text mining analytics to understand this variance.”

Bonnie Stabile, editor of the World Medical & Health Policy journal and co-chair of the workshop, writes about ethical issues in regulating reproductive technologies. She also teaches classes on ethics and health policy, where the topic of organ transplantation is often raised. “Studying the principles of biomedical ethics can help us articulate the critical issues at play in crafting policies regarding both reproduction and transplantation, as both have important implications for personal autonomy and justice,” says Stabile.

Highlights of the workshop included presentations by Debra Budiani-Saberi, Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Organ-Failure Solutions who discussed organ trafficking in rural India; and Keith Melancon, a board-certified general surgeon who publishes extensively in the area of increasing transplant access to minority patients, who presented on the implications of donor compensation schemes. The schedule also featured keynote speeches from Sigrid Fry-Revere, a US-based living donor advocate; and Campbell Fraser, international human organ trade researcher, kidney transplant recipient, and advocate for the planning, development and implementation of anti-trafficking strategies throughout Asia.