April 26, 2005
Houston Liver Donee Dies
Posted by Christine Hurt

Todd Krampitz, who successfully solicited a liver via billboards in Houston last August, has died.  Obviously, his death has had a tragic impact on his family, but his death also spurs more controversy into what tactics ill patients should engage in to receive organs outside the official process.

Last August, I received an email from a law school friend living in Houston.  She was forwarding an email from Todd's wife.  The letter was touching -- it told how the two had been married for two months, then learned that Todd was dying.  His only hope was a whole liver transplant from a nonliving donor.  The email contained a statement to the effect "We know that accidents happen every day.  If an accident should befall you or a loved one, please direct the liver to. . . ."  The email had Todd's donee number.  The email said that Todd was at the bottom of the liver transplant list.  The email also included a picture of the young newlywed couple.

I called another friend who had received the same email.  We debated whether we thought that this type of strategy was ethical.  We really couldn't decide, but agreed that if the same thing happened in our family, we could not say what we would do.  I might go door-to-door asking for help, and I would certainly advertise on this blog!  However, not all people have the same social capital or financial wherewithal to do this.  In addition, whatever liver Todd solicited might have saved someone higher on the list who had been waiting a long time and who was as valuable a person.

My friend is a Wills & Estates lawyer, and she showed me a website where you could join an organ coop -- I agree to donate my organs into the coop if I die, and in return I receive any organs the coop has if I need them.  The coop did not have any other membership fee, and the website stated that at the time, no one in the coop had died.

About a week later, I saw a piece on CNN that Todd had put up two billboards in Houston.  The gist was the same.  Same picture, same "accidents happen every day" pitch.  Within a week or so, Todd received a liver from someone who had seen the billboard on television.  Some patients in Houston on the transplant list were outraged.  Some doctors even spoke out, saying that Todd was not upfront about his illness and that the reason that he was far down on the transplant list was that his prognosis was not good, even with a transplant.  A liver given to someone higher on the list could have saved someone's life, not just prolonged it for 6-12 months.

I have no special expertise to add here on the topic of whether we should have an open market for human organs.  However, these life-or-death issues could be radically different if we had a greater supply for human organs than a demand.  So, be sure and become an organ donor.  I am.

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