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By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007; A03

The number of kidneys, livers and other body parts surgeons are harvesting through a controversial approach to organ donation has started to rise rapidly, a trend that is saving the lives of more waiting patients but, some say, risks sacrificing the interests of the donors.

Under the procedure, surgeons are removing organs within minutes after the heart stops beating and doctors declare a patient dead. Since the 1970s, most organs have been removed only after doctors declared a patient brain dead.

Federal health officials, transplant surgeons and organ banks are promoting the alternative as a way to meet the increasing demand for organs and to give more dying patients and their families the solace of helping others.

Some doctors and bioethicists, however, say the practice raises the disturbing specter of transplant surgeons preying on dying patients for their organs, possibly pressuring doctors and families to discontinue treatment, adversely affecting donors’ care in their final days and even hastening their deaths.

Nevertheless, the number of these donations is on the rise. It more than doubled from 268 in 2003 to at least 605 in 2006, enabling surgeons to transplant more than 1,200 additional kidneys, livers, lungs, hearts and other organs.

“It’s starting to go up exponentially,? said James Burdick, who leads organ-donor efforts at the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

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