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In the United States, people can often wait for years on organ lists before receiving the organ they need. Does the President automatically move to the top of these lists, should they find themselves in need of an organ, or do they have to wait like everyone else?

Edit: Is there a legal mechanism in place for getting the President an organ, should they suddenly need one?

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    Probably safe to assume certain people would get to skip the line, despite whatever the official criteria is. – Evorlor Apr 29 at 2:41
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    I believe that people who have access to private planes or on-demand flights can register at any hospital they can reasonably reach within a certain time frame. In this way, the wealthy and the powerful have better access to transplant organs. There was some tv reporting on it, if I recall correctly. – Mark Rogers Apr 29 at 13:08
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    Doctors also use their discretion to judge specific cases and people as being more urgent or suitable for prompt treatment, the doctor's judgement can take major excursions of urgency depending on the money and social importance involved. – DeltaEnfieldWaid Apr 30 at 6:08
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    I wonder - is the president even on a list? Knowing how much the secret service and everyone around the president prepares for worst case scenarios, I wouldn't be surprised if they had every major organ already ready to use, not even needing to consult any list. (But I guess then, where did they find the organ? From the donor list? Not sure...) – BruceWayne Apr 30 at 15:14
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    @BruceWayne: Unlikely, given that the viability of most organs is only a few hours. You'd need to have several matching donors die every day. – Nate Eldredge Apr 30 at 20:39
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There isn't any rule which would prioritize the President, as far as I can tell. Generally, organ allocation is required to be based on medical criteria, not on factors such as the occupation or societal role of the patient.

42 USC 273 specifies that organ procurement shall be administered by "qualified organ procurement organizations" and sets up ground rules for their operation, one of which is:

have a system to allocate donated organs equitably among transplant patients according to established medical criteria.

Further regulations implementing this law are to be found at 42 CFR 121. 121.8(a)(1) specifies that allocation policies "[s]hall be based on sound medical judgment".

The actual policies that have been created can be found at https://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/governance/policies/. The OPTN policy document is very long, and the criteria are different for different organs, but everything I could find seemed to be of a medical nature. Moreover 5.4.A says:

Allocation of deceased donor organs must not be influenced positively or negatively by political influence, national origin, ethnicity, sex, religion, or financial status.

The part about "political influence" would seem to rule out giving special consideration to the President.

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    Thanks for digging that up, and technically it looks like a fine answer. I chose not to vote on it because it doesn't answer the spirit of the question. – Nobody Apr 28 at 22:11
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    @Nobody: Hm, I thought I did. What do you see as the spirit of the question, then? – Nate Eldredge Apr 29 at 1:41
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    @PeterH: but the prez would almost certainly not top “any list” absent a law or medical regulations making it mandatory, due to politics. What would probably happen, is directed donation, but that’s different. – jmoreno Apr 29 at 10:44
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    While you quote relevent law from the medical side there may be additional relavent law concerning the government's commitment to protect the life of the President, with the goal to keep the government working. While he is not above the law there may be law or other regulation specifically concerning him, in the sense "what needs to be provided to the government, including its leader": Air Force One, body guards, stationary, and yes, all medical help needed to keep him in working order. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 29 at 10:50
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    @Nobody: Well, if the question is really asking what would happen in such a case notwithstanding the law, then it is off topic and ought to be closed. – Nate Eldredge Apr 29 at 13:43
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This really kind of expands on what an "organ waiting list" is and how they work (and why rich people like Steve Jobs get transplants quickly)...

When somebody who is an organ donor dies, the organs are removed and they have a very limited lifetime. Typically they are made available to local hospitals within a certain range. This means for a recipient they need to be able to get to an appropriate hospital within a very short period of time.

For most people, this means registering at a local hospital and waiting it out. However there is nothing saying that you can't register at multiple hospitals, even ones that are a significant distance away as long as you can prove that you can get to the hospital within the specified time period.

So rich people who need organs will register on multiple lists all over the country and then charter an aircraft to be on stand-by for when the call comes in, provided you are the next highest person on the list (according to scoring criteria).

So, given that the President can be anywhere in the country in a matter of hours, if he registered at multiple transplant centers and had the highest score at the time an organ was available, he would get it. Steve Jobs did the same thing when he got his liver transplant, he had to fly nearly 2000 miles to get it, but because he was registered at multiple transplant centers and had a very high score, he got selected for one in Tennessee and was able to travel there when notified.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – feetwet Apr 30 at 3:28
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    Although I have no particular reason to doubt the claims made by this answer, it would be nice to have some citations that verify the claim as being accurate. – Pharap Apr 30 at 20:29

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