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Live Organ Donation: Tips for Reporting

By Deborah L. Shelton

As with any area of medical reporting, maintain your journalistic skepticism. It's easy to get caught up in the gee-whiz, feel-good aspects of transplantation. But we should be asking hard questions. It's not our role to serve as publicists or recruiters for transplant professionals.

Here are some tips to improve your coverage:

1. For trend data, use the United Network for Organ Sharing , which is formatted for analysis and graphics. Trend data also are provided in the of the . Outcomes data on donors are lacking because, unlike recipients, few donors are tracked.

2. Ask for surgeon-specific and center-specific outcomes data. Find out what donors are told about risks and others aspects of the surgery. Review literature given to donors, if any.

3. Get copies of the center's policies for donor selection and evaluation, if any. Find out how the informed consent process is carried out and who does it.

4. Ask the transplant center about donor complication rates. Have any donors died? Been re-hospitalized? What were the circumstances? Who pays for care if there are complications? Don't be satisfied with answers like, "we'll take care of it." Or "the recipient's insurance will cover it." Ask them to show you the document that spells it out.

5. Don't bargain with donors who insist on having a "positive" article written and having certain facts kept out of the story, such as post-surgical complications. Important facts about donation should not be omitted. Readers, some of whom are considering donation, deserve complete information.

6. Ask the center if it has a separate live donor team. Who evaluates the donor and determines suitability? Are there any conflicts of interest?

7. Is the donor's surgeon board-certified? If so, in what? Is the recipient's surgeon board-certified? Are the surgeons certified by the Association of Transplant Surgeons?

8. Are there specific policies for donors who give anonymously? Do these policies differ from those covering people who offer an organ to a specific individual such as a friend or relative? Does the center accept donors who are solicited from the Internet or other public sources?

9. Is there donor follow-up after surgery? What does it consist of? Who's in charge?

Final thought: Living donors are the only patients who undergo major surgery to help someone else. For that reason, careful scrutiny of their evaluation and care - before, during and after the transplant - is an essential part of good news coverage.

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