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Organ Ambulances

LANCASTER, Pa. -- With nearly 100,000 Americans awaiting an organ transplant, we're interested in a new New York City initiative designed to increase the number of donated organs.

The plan is a relatively simple one: A special ambulance will be ready to respond if emergency paramedics declare a person dead at home or in a location other than a hospital. The ambulance will be equipped to preserve organs, while speeding to a transplant hospital.

The Washington Post reported that New York paramedics, working under the direction of a doctor, currently try for about 30 minutes to revive patients whose hearts have stopped. If the effort is unsuccessful, the patient is usually declared dead at the scene.

Once death occurs, organs begin to deteriorate. Special steps must be taken to continue oxygen flow to the organs if they are to be transplanted successfully.

Because of this, deaths that occur outside hospitals are often problematic when it comes to harvesting organs - even if the deceased has expressed wishes to have his or her organs reused.

The New York ambulance is aimed at combating this and enlarging the pool of organs available.

We acknowledge the idea of an ambulance roaming the streets to gather organs may be a bit ghoulish. Bioethicists have expressed concern that family members could be pressured into approving organ donation simply by the arrival of the ambulance.

That's why strict procedures must be in place if this program is to succeed. New York officials already have declared that there must be a five-minute cooling off'' period between the time a person is declared dead and when the transplant team takes possession of the body.

We would also hope that program directors give careful thought to how the team handles itself and what is said to family members or others who likely might be shocked by the sudden death of a loved one.

But the program, which is being funded with a federal grant, has a lot of value. It's estimated that if similar programs were expanded nationwide, it might increase the pool of transplants by as many as 35,000 a year.

That would do a lot to cut the waiting list of people who are literally dying for a donated organ.

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