Organ donation saves lives, but 19 people die each day waiting for transplants that don't take place because of the shortage of donated organs. Roughly 100,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and a new name is added to the national waiting list every 16 minutes.
As they wait, medical bills pile-up and their health deteriorates. Time is lost from school or work. Simple tasks such as climbing stairs or playing with children become exhausting. And as these organ transplant candidates lug around oxygen tanks or spend hours each week in dialysis, there is no guarantee that the call will ever come that could give them a new lease on life.
To be eligible for organ donation, a potential donor's brain function must have ceased permanently but their heart and lungs must continue to function (with the help of ventilators). Approximately 12,000 people who die each year meet that criteria, but less than half actually become organ donors. The primary stumbling block is family members who refuse to give consent.
Many family members mistakenly reject organ donation due to:
- Misconceptions regarding their religion's attitude towards organ donation. (In fact, many religions actually encourage organ donation or consider it to be a matter of personal choice.)
- Fear that organ donation will prohibit an open-casket funeral. (In fact, organs and tissues are removed in procedures similar to surgery. All incisions are closed afterwards and the body is treated with utmost respect.)
- Concern that it will cost them money. (In fact, donors and their families are never charged for providing this valuable service; they are hailed as life-savers.)
The good news is that you can make your preferences clear. By registering as a willing organ donor and discussing your decision with those you love, you can make sure your wishes are carried out. At the same time, you could encourage family members to become organ donors too.
I Did This!
- Review the organ donation registration procedures for your state. In most places, you can simply sign up online to join your state’s registry. In many states, you can also officially note your desire to be a potential donor when you apply for or renew your driver’s license. Then, tell your family and make sure they understand your wishes. Familial consent may be required before organs or tissues can be donated. (Donated organs and tissue are shared at the national level, but laws that govern organ donation vary from state to state. Some states have organ donor registries that make a person's wishes to be a donor legally binding without witnesses or family consent.) A smart idea is to print a family notification card so that there is no doubt about your intentions.
- Print out or order classroom material designed to encourage organ donation among new drivers and send it to driver's education teachers at your local high schools.
- Talk with your religious leader about making your religion's position on organ donation clear to members via a sermon or an article in a bulletin.
- If you know someone who helped save lives through organ donation, honor this hero with an online tribute. Doing so will encourage others to make the pledge to help.
- In every e-mail you send today, pass along the link to a quick quiz about organ donation to get others thinking about this important issue.