This paper reviews the historical development of federal government policy for kidney, heart, and liver transplantation. It examines several political dimensions of whole organ transplantation: the role of the print and broadcast media; the management of organ procurement; the certification of transplant centers; the evaluation of new surgical procedures; and the issues of financing, distributive justice, and rationing of scarce medical resources. The author finds that the media, though powerful in affecting transplant policy, have not been subjected to critical analysis. Organ procurement modifications, driven by a need orientation toward closing the gap between actual and desired levels of performance, may have adversely affected performance. The case of liver transplantation suggests the need for improved institutions and mechanisms for evaluating new surgical procedures. Finally, states that confront the need to meet a binding budget-balancing requirement may allocate funds away from expensive medical procedures that benefit the few toward basic services that benefit the many; the Oregon and Virginia Medicaid programs exemplify this point.

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