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A federal court in Atlanta this morning denied a request to delay a national policy that changes how liver donations are determined.

The policy goes into effect immediately.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics was among 15 transplant centers that had sought to block the policy.

“This has been a challenging time as the transplant community has been divided on the new liver policy,” the United Network for Organ Sharing said in a statement.

“Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the legal proceedings, UNOS will strive to reunite all parties and focus on what at our core unifies us — the vital work of saving lives. We will work with the community in a transparent process to evaluate the policy and determine if it is having the intended effect.”

The new transplant policy is based on a series of expanding circles. That is, patients with the most urgent need could obtain a liver from a compatible donor within a 150-mile radius, then a 250-mile radius and finally up to a 500-mile radius.

The previous distribution system was based on geographic sectors that gave priority to candidates who lived nearby.

The suit had been filed against UNOS, a federal-private partnership that manages the nation’s organ transplant system, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The lawsuit had claimed that, “based on the government’s own data, transplant center plaintiffs will perform 256 fewer transplants per year — leaving 256 candidates at risk of imminent death absent the transplant they would have otherwise received.”

The policy, the suit said, “will result in at least 20 percent fewer liver transplants being performed in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged regions in the country, which are served in part by transplant center plaintiffs’ liver transplant programs.”

In its statement Tuesday morning, UNOS said, “The transplant community, including a committee comprising transplant experts, organ recipients, and donor families from around the country and the (Organ Procurement and Transplant Network) board of directors — with extensive input from the public — came together to develop and approve this new liver policy.”

While acknowledging the decision could be appealed, UNOS added that, “... we hope this process is a speedy one and allows all of us to return our focus to patients and donors. There is much work for us to do, together — on average, three people die every day in the U.S. while waiting for a liver transplant.”

The policy is anticipated to reduce the waiting list by some 100 fewer deaths annually, according to UNOS.

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