Allocating Scarce Organs: How a Change in Supply Affects Transplant Waiting Lists

Tuesday, June 14, 2016: 10:35 AM
G65 (Huntsman Hall)

Author(s): Stacy Dickert-Conlin

Discussant: Sarah Stith

The shortage of human organs in the United States is vast in the face of legislation that prohibits their purchase or sale. Systems for allocating organs are complex and vary by organ,
but they generally begin by generating a list of medically compatible transplant recipients in a geographic area. Because geography plays a key role in allocation, shocks to the local supply of
organs will likely affect transplant waitlists. We use data on transplant recipients from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients to assess whether the shift in the supply of organs
arising from changes in motorcycle helmet laws affects the behavior and outcomes of transplant candidates. We find that following repeals of statewide motorcycle helmet laws, the local supply of transplantable organs from donors killed in motor vehicle accidents increases by nearly 20 percent. Transplant candidates respond strongly to this supply shock – inflows to local
transplant waitlists increase by roughly 12 percent in the years following the repeal. These inflows are especially pronounced among those who live outside the local area, implying that in
the absence of a formal pricing mechanism, waiting times for organs are the relevant “price” determining listing decisions. In addition, transplants from living donors decline following these
supply shocks, suggesting that the relative prices of transplants from living and deceased donors influence candidates’ decisions to seek organs from living donors.