Patient Perspectives on the Use of Frailty, Cognitive Function, and Age in Kidney Transplant Evaluation

Prakriti Shrestha, Sarah E. Van Pilsum Rasmussen, Maria Fazal, Nadia M. Chu, Jacqueline M. Garonzik-Wang, Elisa J. Gordon, Mara McAdams-DeMarco, Casey Jo Humbyrd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: The allocation of scarce deceased donor kidneys is a complex process. Transplant providers are increasingly relying on constructs such as frailty and cognitive function to guide kidney transplant (KT) candidate selection. Patient views of the ethical issues surrounding the use of such constructs are unclear. We sought to assess KT candidates’ attitudes and beliefs about the use of frailty and cognitive function to guide waitlist selection. Methods: KT candidates were randomly recruited from an ongoing single-center cohort study of frailty and cognitive function. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, and thematic analysis was performed. Inductively derived themes were mapped onto bioethics principles. Results: Twenty interviews were conducted (65% contact rate, 100% participation rate) (60% male; 70% White). With respect to the use of frailty and cognitive function in waitlisting decisions, four themes emerged in which participants: (1) valued maximizing a scarce resource (utility); (2) prioritized equal access to all patients (equity); (3) appreciated a proportional approach to the use of equity and utility (precautionary utility); and (4) sought to weigh utility- and equity-based concerns regarding social support. While some participants believed frailty and cognitive function were useful constructs to maximize utility, others believed their use would jeopardize equity. Patients were uncomfortable with using single factors such as frailty or cognitive impairment to deny someone access to transplantation; participants instead encouraged using the constructs to identify opportunities for intervention to improve frailty and cognitive function prior to KT. Conclusions: KT candidates’ values mirrored the current allocation strategy, seeking to balance equity and utility in a just manner, albeit with conflicting viewpoints on the appropriate use of frailty and cognitive impairment in waitlisting decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-274
Number of pages12
JournalAJOB Empirical Bioethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Frailty
  • age
  • bioethics
  • cognitive impairment
  • kidney transplantation
  • social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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