Reprieve on organ transplants; Kidneys: New policy eases fears patients at Hopkins, University could be harmed.


KIDNEY transplants in Maryland could be a bit easier to obtain next year, if two recent favorable trends continue.

A threat by a private group to withhold donated kidneys to Maryland patients on a national waiting list was withdrawn last week.

That's a major concession after months of contentious arguments that could have put the lives of patients at risk.

It also could have harmed the highly successful transplant programs at Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland Medical Center. These two hospitals were being punished for their popularity. Smaller transplant centers had persuaded a private group that coordinates distribution of organs nationwide to sanction Maryland for using up too many of these precious donated kidneys.

But the group retracted that policy last week, approving a cooperative policy to help the Maryland hospitals gradually reduce the number of kidneys they use from outside this region.

The group's concessions could be linked to political maneuvering in Washington that also favors big regional transplant centers. An effort by the Clinton administration to revamp the organ allocation system could happen in just 90 days. That's when a congressionally mandated delay -- pushed through last week by politicians representing smaller transplant centers -- expires.

It won't be easy in that brief period to prevent these proposed federal regulations from taking effect. A panel of the Institute of Medicine recommended the changes, which would remove much of the politics now apparent in organ-transplant decisions.

All this is good news for our two local transplant centers. Studies show that these hospitals, along with others serving large population centers, have the lowest mortality rates and the best access for the sickest patients awaiting organ transplants. Their success should be encouraged, not penalized.

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