People suffering chronic liver failure, like that caused by heavy drinking or hepatitis, will no longer be first in line for transplants. The Richmond, Va.-based United Network for Organ Sharing, which sets national policies for organ transplants, approved the change at its annual meeting in Boston last week. The change will purge hundreds of chronic liver patients from the top of waiting lists, leaving a relatively small number of acute patients. The change will take effect Jan. 20. Chronic conditions include alcohol-induced liver damage, viral hepatitis, biliary disorders and genetic liver disease. Supporters said they weren't trying to blame alcoholics or intravenous drug users, who often get hepatitis from dirty needles. The idea is to make a patient's chances for survival the top priority, rather than how close a person is to death. Opponents say bumping the sickest patients from the top of the list will be disastrous. "My prediction is you're going to see a massive increase of patients that are going to die," said John J. Fung, M.D., chief of transplant surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, one of the busiest transplant centers in the country.
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