Tax Breaks Don't Boost Organ Donation

Organ transplant rates did not increase after tax breaks were offered to living donors

(RxWiki News) Organ transplants can save lives. Sadly, there are not enough organs to match the number of patients who need organs. Some US states have started giving tax breaks to living organ donors.

However, these tax breaks do not seem to be boosting rates of organ donation.

Over the past couple of decades, there have been a number of measures to improve donation rates. Despite these measures, there are still not enough organs available for transplant, said Atheendar Venkataramani, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital.

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In 2004, Wisconsin became the first state to give living organ donors tax breaks of up to $10,000. Since then, other states - including Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Ohio and Iowa - have put similar tax breaks into law.

At the moment, there are 17 states giving tax breaks to living organ donors. An additional 18 states are considering similar laws.

"Tax policies were thought to be a way to increase donations without challenging the public's unease about outright payment for organs, but our evidence shows they have not increased the organ supply very much, if at all," said Dr. Venkataramani.

According to Michelle Segovia of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, "There is also a critical shortage of deceased organ donors. Some patients who are awaiting transplants are turning to living donors to receive their Gift of Life."

"It is illegal to buy or sell human organs but some states are allowing living donors who donate life-saving gifts a tax break," said Segovia.

For their study, Dr. Venkataramani and colleagues looked at living donation rates in the five years before and four years after tax breaks were put in place in the 15 states that had such policies in 2009.

The researchers compared these rates to donation rates in states without tax break policies.

Before tax breaks were put in place, donation rates among states were slightly different. After tax breaks were put in place, donation rates did not rise much in states that passed tax breaks.

Even when the researchers looked at donation rates in specific groups - such as gender, race and the relationship between donor and recipient - donation rates still did not change after passing tax breaks for living donors.

While these findings did not explain why the tax policies had little effect, the authors had some ideas. One reason, they said, may be that the tax breaks may have been too small for some families. In most states, the cash value of incentives to donate were less than $1,000 for a middle-income family of four.

Another reason may be that many people do not know the tax breaks exist for living donors.

Future studies should try to explain why donation rates changed little after tax breaks were put in place, the authors said.

"These tax incentives cost the states very little, so there is no real reason to do away with them," said Dr. Venkataramani.

"Instead we should focus on improving them to better encourage living donation. And even if these policies don't increase donor rates, they benefit individuals who donate regardless of any financial incentives and provide an incredible gift, sometimes to strangers. If tax deductions can help them with their expenses, perhaps reducing the stress of donation, that is certainly worthwhile," he said.

The study was published in the August issue of the American Journal of Transplantation.

Review Date: 
August 29, 2012