Myths and Facts of Organ Donation

There are currently over 114,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list. Every ten minutes another person is added, and every day 20 of them die. This gap between supply and demand continues to widen, but people are still unwilling to donate. In this post, I hope to reassure people that not only is organ donation important, it is also safe.

In 2017, 85% of organs were donated by deceased donors; however, this number is not as impressive once realizing that a while living donor can only donate a singular organ, deceased donors can each donate eight organs. This shows a strange discrepancy in which nearly 40% of donors are living donors. This partially comes from the fact that only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation. However, a large part of this comes from Americans being unwilling to register as organ donors.  

   Many people are not fully informed on how being a deceased donor works. When the donor arrives at the hospital and it becomes clear that they are not going to be able to be saved, a member of the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) is notified. After a patient has died, testing is done to make sure the patient is brain dead, and the OPO representative will check the National Donate Life Registry to see if the patient is an organ donor. If they are, the organs are artificially supported until they can be removed. The procedure is payed for by the recipient, not the donor’s family. Being a deceased organ donor is not even legally binding as long as you have a living relative. In fact, places in the UK have started to change their policy so that a relative does not have to give consent if the deceased carries a organ donation card after realizing one in seven intended donations was blocked posthumously.

   Regardless of the need of many, it is rational human nature to protect yourself first. With widespread misinformation regarding organ donation, many people are not willing to become organ donors because they believe it will harm them in the long run. As America has an opt in policy, this makes it very hard to maintain a high enough number of donors. In this article, I will be focusing on myths surrounding deceased donation, and hopefully, it will help the audience make an informed decision on whether they would like to donate. 

Health   

   There is no age limit on being an organ donor and there are no restrictions based on medical history that prevent anyone from registering to be an organ donor. This is because the decision for whether organs are going to be used takes place after the individual has died. To someone who  There are actually only a few conditions that prohibit an individual from being able to donate their organs — including active cancer or HIV infection. Even with the presence of such diseases, there are often other organs or tissue samples that can be used. As for age, 1 in 3 donors in 2016 was over the age of 50. Currently, the oldest donor in America was 92 when he donated his liver. Whether someone has viable organs is made on a case by case basis, and the age of a patient is not taken into account over the quality of the organs and tissue. Many people overlook tissue donation despite over 1 million tissue transplants performed every year. Though organs — most notably the heart — are generally donated by donors under 70, corneas and other tissues can all be donated by donors of any age. 

Ethics

       Doctors

   Many people opt out of being an organ donor because of an unfounded fear: the fear that they will not get the same quality care in a life-threatening situation as someone who is not an organ donor. Sara Pace Jones, chairwoman of the advocacy group Donate Life America, attributes these more conspiracy theory-esque ideas to overly dramatic television portrayals of transplantation. In real life, the doctor who is trying to save a patient is not the same doctor who will perform the organ transplants; therefore, they have no incentive to let a patient die because they are an organ donor. However, in a doctor procedural, the transplantation process becomes very quick as part of dramatization, creating a scenario in which a doctor appears to be grappling with the idea of letting an organ donor die in order to save more lives. To someone watching this, their life being traded for another in a similar situation becomes a fear that is real to them. This simply isn’t the case, and these unsubstantiated fears should not affect a decision that will so highly impact others.

       Brain Death 

Cerebral Metabolism in patients who are healthy compared to those in a state of brain death. In brain death, only the skin surrounding the skill continues to consume energy.

   57% of participants were not fully convinced of the idea of brain death and whether someone brain dead could recover, and thus were worried that their organs would have to be harvested when their life was not fully past saving. The phrase brain dead is used so often and in such varying contexts, that its definition has been confused. In a different survey, 2/3 of people believe that brain death did not mean legal death, while over half equated being brain dead to being comatose. The issue here is that most people picture a coma instead of true brain death, and there is a big difference between being brain dead and being in a comatose or vegetative state. By definition, there is no coming back from brain death. It is the point in which damage has caused the brain to lose function. A person who is comatose can still breathe if nothing else, whereas someone who is brain dead does not breathe or have a heartbeat without life support. The term “life support” itself is a misnomer that adds to the illusion that the person is still alive. Ventilators were made specifically so that organs could remain viable, but the way that the person appears to be breathing leads many to deny that they are dead. Often, those who are organ donors will have more extensive tests done for 

Conclusion

The facts are this: doctors are not letting their patient die because the patient is an organ donor, and if you are legally brain dead, you cannot be revived. The idea of eventual demise is startling and disturbing, but that does not mean that these conspiracy theories can be used to demonize organ donation. Every day, 20 people from transplant waiting lists die and an organ donor saves at least 8 lives, even more considering tissue transplantation. There are valid personal and religious reasons to not be an organ donor, but this list does not include thinking that signing up to be an organ donor means signing up to sacrifice your life for another.

How to Donate

  • When obtaining or renewing your driver’s license, designate that you want to become an organ donor
  • Register with National Donate Life Registry
    • You can also do this through the Health app if you have an iPhone with iOS 10 by looking under the Medical ID tab.  

Sources

https://www.organdonor.gov/statistics-stories/statistics.html

https://www.theweek.co.uk/68602/bereaved-families-blocked-hundreds-of-organ-transplants-from-registered-donors

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/the-reluctant-organ-donor/

https://www.donatelife.net/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15495379

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