After years of debate among liver disease doctors, researchers and transplant centers, the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) has approved a new policy that aims to address long-standing geographic disparities in the supply of donated organs across the country, The Washington Post reports.

The new proposal, which was given the green light only after liver disease experts considered 63 alternative plans of action, aims to make a greater number of donated livers available in big cities like New York and Chicago, where the shortage of organs is most severe. To this end, the organization will essentially extend the area within which an organ can be offered by drawing a 150-nautical-mile circle around donor hospitals instead of relying on current practice, which divides the United States into 11 regions for liver distribution. 

The plan hopes to end current liver transplant disparities. For decades, transplantees in places like the Southwest and Deep South have had a much better chance at receiving a donated organ than those in the Northeast or West Coast, where donors are less prevalent. This is occurring as the nation faces one of its most severe organ shortages. Last year, only 7,841 donated livers were transplanted into American patients, while 14,000 people remained on the national waiting list. 

OPTN says the new policy is expected to make hundreds more livers available to patients in areas where they wait the longest. However, opponents argue that the arbitrary geographic rules redefining so-called donor service areas violate the law, which prioritizes giving livers to the sickest patients first, regardless of their location. 

That notwithstanding, the plan was officially approved last week and is expected to roll out across the country over the course of 2018.