New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg marches up Fifth Avenue during the 91st annual Veterans Day Parade held on November 11, 2010 in New York City.  UPI Photo/Monika Graff Photo via Newscom

“Hey buddy! Spare a kidney?”

New York City today is launching a new program to put a roving Organ Preservation Unit in the field to harvest kidneys from people who die after going into cardiac arrest.

The move has prompted immediate alarm from critics, who say they are concerned New York City might be taking the first steps into the organ harvesting business.

One critical blog already has termed the program “Mayor Bloomberg’s Organ Snatchers,” asking what difference there is “in practical terms between the government letting you die and pressuring your relatives to give you the organs” and having a private third-party brokering a sale of organs.

In the United States, organ brokering is strictly illegal.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the new pilot program designed to help the nearly 8,000 people in New York City who are awaiting a life-saving kidney transplant.

The kidney recovery program, the first of its kind in the nation, is being funded with a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration, and will involve a partnership between New York City, the city’s police and fire departments, Bellevue Hospital and the New York Organ Donation Network, a 501c3 organization authorized to harvest organs in the five boroughs of Manhattan and on Long Island.

Right now, there is no procedure in the United States for recovering organs from locations outside of hospitals.

But the mayor’s office estimates that there are 400-plus eligible people who die of cardiac arrest in New York City outside of Manhattan hospitals each year.

In 2008, only 231 kidneys were recovered in New York City hospitals, and in 2009, only 261, according to data provided to WND by the New York Organ Donation Network.

To be eligible for the program, a person must have registered with the state to be an organ donor; typically people in New York register to become organ donors at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for a driver’s license, renewing a driver’s license or applying for a non-driver identification card.

“Right now we have only one Organ Preservation Unit and it looks a lot on the outside like an ambulance,” Julia E. Rivera, spokeswoman for the New York Organ Donation Network, told WND.

This is how the program is designed to work:

  • When an emergency call is made for an ambulance in a cardiac-arrest situation, police and fire will check to see if the person involved is an organ donor;

  • If so, the Organ Preservation Unit will be dispatched to the location to wait in the vicinity while EMS tries to save the person’s life;
  • If the person dies, the Organ Preservation Unit will become involved, trying to determine if a kidney can be preserved and if the family agrees.

“In a hospital, we do not need the consent of the family to take an organ from someone registered as an organ donor,” Rivera explained. “But in this pilot program, we are not going to attempt to recover any kidneys unless the family agrees.”

Rivera did not know if this policy would change if the pilot is successful, such that the Organ Preservation Unit would be authorized to attempt to preserve a kidney, even if the family objected.

WND asked how the success of the pilot program would be measured.

“First we’ve got to see if we get one kidney,” explained Jason Post, a spokesman in Bloomberg’s office.

Post also was not sure exactly how long the pilot program would last, responding only “several months.”

“The idea is to test the protocol,” Post told WND. “We are going to be trying to recover the body of the cardiac-arrest patient in the field and transporting it to Bellevue Hospital where a medical team will remove and preserve the kidney. The whole point of the Organ Preservation Unit is to transport the person to the hospital so the organ can be preserved.”

Rivera agreed that the pilot program involves a “delicate and complicated process.”

“Our goal is to preserve lives,” she told WND, “not to cause more pain.”

Rivera estimated the program would last 5-6 months and she was equally vague on how the success of the pilot would be measured.

“We want to make sure the Organ Preservation Unit is accepted by the community,” she stressed, “so we are going to be measuring how people react in addition to how many kidneys we manage to preserve.”

“The overwhelming majority of those who choose to become organ donors cannot realize their wishes, since most deaths occur outside of a hospital,” Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, director of emergency services at Bellevue Hospital Center said in a prepared statemented on the program. “The new Organ Preservation Unit hopes to meet the desires of those willing to become organ donors upon death, wherever death occurs. If our pilot is as successful as the experiences in Spain and France, New Yorkers will not have to wait an extended period of time for life-saving kidney transplants.”

“Everything we do at the New York City Fire Department is focused on a single goal: saving lives,” New York Fire Commissioner Cassano said in the mayor’s press release. “Our Emergency Medical Service, which already responds to more than 1.2 million calls each year, is proud to begin this innovative new program that can save countless more lives each year.”

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