Are you a REGISTERED organ donor?
What’s going to happen to you after you die?
No, I’m not talking about the afterlife. I’m talking about your body, corporeal matter, your organs and tissues. What’s going to happen to all the blood and bone that makes up your physical self when you die?
If you are like many Americans, it will be your family that actually has to make this decision. Particularly in the absence of clear instructions on the part of the deceased, the grieving next of kin will be asked whether the organs can be removed. It is estimated that 35 percent of potential donors end up going to their graves in one piece because their families refuse to give consent.
The best way to spare your family the pain of having to make such a decision is to make your wishes very clear ahead of time and, if you do wish to donate your organs or tissues, to become a registered donor.
According to Donate Life America’s annual National Donor Designation Report Card, which was released last month, only about 37 percent of adults in the U.S. are registered organ donors. Yet 57 percent of Americans express a desire to donate. So why this huge gap between willingness and actually taking the steps to make sure it happens?
Naturally, people don’t want to think deeply about their own mortality. It’s not a cheery subject, which is why all sorts of end-of-life planning goes undone despite the best of intentions. But there are other reasons people who are inclined to donate hesitate to codify that inclination. They are giving credence to some of the pervasive misinformation floating around concerning organ donation.
A commonly cited reason for leaving that space on the back of the driver’s license blank is the belief that ER doctors and nurses will not work as hard to save a donor’s life. However, this doesn’t make any logical sense. Organs and tissues are allocated based on complex algorithms that take compatibility, need, time on the waiting list and various other factors into account and the process is overseen by an organization called The United Network for Organ Sharing. The medical professionals who are responsible for the organ removal will be separate from those that take care of the transplant, and they are not in a position to get anything from a recipient or their family. Furthermore, why would your doctor value the life of a faceless recipient more than that of the suffering person in front of her? Frankly, it’s a slur against the ethics of hard-working hospital staff to suggest that they would do less than their utmost to save a life.
Additionally, hospitals must be ever-vigilant against accusations of malpractice, so declaring the death of an organ donor is given particular consideration. Often, the hospitals run extra tests, at no cost to the family, to make absolutely certain that there is no brain activity before calling a time of death and notifying a transplant team.
Other people are concerned about whether they will still be able to have an open-casket funeral if they choose donation. This too is a non-issue. Organ donation is done surgically, so as long as the body is properly dressed, the results will not be visible. Bones that have been donated can be replaced by metal rods for the funeral, and the eyes are usually closed, so corneal donations wouldn’t be noticeable either. Even tissue donations such as skin can be taken from the back so as to be inconspicuous.
Age and health are other factors the people assume will preclude them from donation, but even advanced age or illness would not necessarily make you an unsuitable donor. Successful donations have been performed using organs from donors who were in their 70s and 80s. And while your ticker might not be in good shape, you might still have perfectly functional kidneys.
The other assumption that people make is that their religion would frown on the practice of “mutilating” the body after death. In fact, most of the major religions have come out in favor of organ donation, as can be seen on the Donate Life website. After all, organ donation epitomizes the qualities of charity and love that are at the heart of many such belief systems.
There are about 100,000 Americans on the waiting list for an organ transplant. On any given day, 77 of them will receive a transplant and hopefully be given another chance at life or the gift of sight. However, eighteen of the people on the list will die because they couldn’t be matched with a donor in time. For those people, your indecision concerning donation is truly a matter of life and death.
Be a registered organ donor, because there will almost certainly come a time when you or a loved one will need an organ and you’ll join the list of those who live or die depending on the decisions of strangers.