The agency that oversees organ transplants is delaying a policy opposed by academic medical centers in the South and Midwest. Schools like Vanderbilt University have opposed changes meant to distribute livers more equitably.
Vanderbilt joined Emory in Atlanta and a dozen other institutions in suing earlier this week to block the redrawing of the organ distribution map. These institutions say a policy set to take effect April 30 would lead to 20 percent fewer liver transplants in their hospitals.
The South and Midwest have higher organ donation rates than elsewhere. The new policy would broaden how far a liver can travel, offering it first to patients who are close to death and live within 500 miles.
Vanderbilt, for instance, argues that could mean a critical patient as far away as Chicago could get priority for a Tennessee liver. But the United Network for Organ Sharing adopted the policy in December, seeing it as a needed modernization to correct inequities that developed decades.
"The new policy improves upon the previous system to make it fairer by providing more equitable access to a transplant for the benefit of all patients based on medical need," UNOS CEO Brian Shepard said in a statement explaining the new rules. "Over time the prior system developed geographic disparities and addressing these problems emerged as a top priority."
Transplant centers are fighting to protect their programs which can be big revenue generators, with each surgery bringing in more than $800,000. Vanderbilt has been resisting the change for years and arguing that Tennesseans should continue to benefit from having such high organ donation rates locally.