Therapy: Healing by Tinkering

Every year, 20,000 or more Americans develop a kind of kidney disease that is perfectly controllable if the patient can be regularly hooked to a machine that can take over the kidney's work. Yet the machines are scarce, and of the deserving victims only 1,400 get the treatment, a figure that inevitably leads to hand-wringing tales of doctors and hospital administrators who must play God, deciding which kidney patients to save and which to let die.

Several reasons are cited for the dilemma. One is cost, for although...

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