More than 100,000 people are in need of an organ transplant, all the while nearly 20 people a day die waiting! To people with organ failure anywhere in the world, organ transplants are known as gifts of life and gifts of love. It is a separate matter altogether that all patients will not receive organ donations in times of need. This could be due to cultural restraints, religious beliefs, or a shortage of donor organs. While most Americans support organ donation, a third of them do not know the essential steps to take to be an organ donor. Education on the benefits of organ donation must be increased in order to understand that that donation can be one of the greatest ways to serve humanity.
Cultivating organ donor awareness could be one of the most illustrious ways of sharing the gift of life. Thanks to the major surgical advances during the past decade, organ transplantation is no longer an experimental procedure. However, while the number of transplants needed each year continues to rise, the number of organs recovered for transplantation remains the same. This demonstrates the fact that the demand for organs outnumbers the supply; hence, an average of 20 people dies each day waiting for transplants. Despite the numerous advances that have been made in medicine and technology, a critical shortage remains in the number of organ donors versus the demand for organs. The U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration reported that as of March 31, 2008, the number of candidates awaiting an organ or tissue donation reached 98,634. Further, the number of transplants performed and the number of donors during the year 2007 was 28,354 and 14,395, respectively (OrganTransplants.org, 2008). These figures show that a great degree of effort is inevitable to educate the community on the importance and relevance of organ and tissue donations. The need for organs for transplantation and scientific study is constantly increasing. It is important to explore the negative effects of the shortage of organs, and how people can be persuaded to donate their organs after death. There have been numerous gains made in organ transport technology in recent years, which have increased the number of eligible patients waiting for organs. However the number of organs donated yearly has fail to keep up with the current demand, and this gap is continually growing. The number of organ donors has increased by only 5 percent a year, while the number of patients on transplant waiting lists has grown 15 percent (OrganTransplant.org, 2008). In 1994, the National Organ Transplant Act was passed as Congress tried to increase the supply of organs. In 2010, the number of patients on transplant waiting lists was over 100,000. The majority of organ donors are age 18-64, which accounts for between 56 to 66 percent of the country’s population. This figure illustrates there are currently a large number of potential donors in the United States. Unfortunately, there are a number of drawbacks “including lack of timely data and inability to identify those deaths suitable for use in organ donation (Childress, 2009).”
Organ and tissue transplants save lives. We must stress the importance of every potential donor informing their respective family members or next of kin of their wishes. Many family members are nervous about organ donation since they know little about the actual process. This lack of knowledge can contribute to the increased shortage of potential organs, therefore it is beneficial for people to understand what organ donation actually entails. The process of organ donation mainly starts at the hospital when a potential organ donor is identified. The chief patients considered for organ donation are those which are pronounced brain dead. Brain death is essentially the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem. Brain death can occur from causes such as brain hemorrhage, asphyxiation, drowning or motor vehicle accidents, which were responsible for the deaths of 25 percent of organ donors during 2007 and 2010 (UNOS, 2010). In extremely rare cases, however, organs can be transplanted from donors known as non-heart beating or DCD (death after cardiac death), in which death must be declared by traditional criteria concerning cardiac death (UNOS, 2010). When the donor is properly identified, the family of the deceased is contacted in an attempt give them the chance to donate organs. Once the family has considered the option, and consents, the organs are recovered, preserved and transported to hospitals where potential recipients are waiting. Most donors are able to provide at least three organs, with the majority being kidneys and livers (UNOS, 2010).
Surveys and polls show that 85 percent of Americans believe in organ donation. Most of these people fill out organ donor cards, or sign the back of their driver’s licenses, but fail to inform family members of their wishes to become organ donors. Filling out organ donation forms are not a guarantee of becoming a donor, since family members many times have to make the final decision concerning organ donation. Studies show that in cases where there was no prior discussions concerning organ donation, “eight out of ten times, the family will say ‘no’ because they are uncomfortable making the decision on behalf of the loved one (Brower, 2005).” Some states are proposing legislation which would make all individuals potential organ or tissue donors, however, most states require “written consent from the next of kin, even if the victim expressed a desire to do so on a driver’s license or donor card (Brower, 2005).” If there is no knowledge of a potential donor’s wishes, families may inadvertently refuse to donate organs, leading to a greater shortage of organs. Since the family members or next of kin give the final consent despite the individual having already signed a donor card or given indication on their driver’s license, it is paramount that one should have a frank discussion about organ donation with his/her family. This is the only way to ensure one’s wishes are followed. Hendrickson notes that families are usually asked to allow the donation, and their decision is easier if they know that the person wanted to donate organs. Many families are comforted by the fact that their loss can help give someone else a new life (Hendrickson, 2008). Certain populations feel that it is not socially polite to publicly speak about donating organs. Simply being open and discussing it often will eventually aide in dismissing this stigma. It is this avoidance to discuss this topic that makes it all the more imperative that it be brought to a social forefront of communication. We need to establish an understanding for the need, ease and goal of organ and tissue donations. We must also acknowledge and dispel the myths that surround organ and tissue donations. Communities and families need to be provided with the essential information needed in order to determine whether they wish to become an organ or tissue donor. It is breaking down this wall, and getting this information out to the public that will assist in better education, and essentially donor recruitment.
Discovery Health lists the following common myths surrounding organ and tissue donation are as follows (Hendrickson, 2008):
If doctors see that I’m an organ donor, they won’t do all they can to save my life?
What if I’m declared brain-dead, but there’s a possibility I might wake up?
The rich and famous are given preference when it comes to receiving an organ donation.
My religion doesn’t allow me to donate organs.
Only the liver, heart, and kidneys can be donated.
I won’t be able to have an open casket funeral.
I’m too old to donate.
I’m not in good enough health to donate.
My family will have to pay expenses for donating my organs.
If I want to be an organ donor, I can add the information to my will.
“A Donor Story”
As Mother’s Day draws near, I feel a sense of dread coming over me. May 13, 2001 will be 2 years since the death of my youngest son, Blake. On May 12th, Blake (15-years-old) and my older son Bryce (17-years-old) were involved in a car accident on the way to a high school soccer game. It was a devastating time for our community and especially for our family. That evening at the hospital, we were in shock when we were told that Blake was brain dead and would not survive. Bryce was still in intensive care and was scheduled for surgery later that night. The hospital was filled with teenagers, parents and our family. The love and support all of them gave us at the time was very comforting. It was proof that Blake had touched so many lives during his short 15 years and that Bryce would have the help he needed from all of us to recover.
When asked about organ donation, we just did not know what to do. We were not educated about organ donation and had never spoken with Blake about it. After discussing this decision with our family, we knew that we had to say yes! In life Blake was such a giving person, we knew that it would have been his choice to give in order to help others. He gave his family and friends love, laughter, friendship and joy, and we knew he would want to give someone else the opportunity to have a better life.
We have recently been in contact with one recipient, and we know that Blake’s other two recipients are doing fine. That gives us some comfort in knowing that a miracle has come from our tragedy.
For the past year and a half I have been involved with our local donor service to help educate the public about organ donation, especially teenagers and their parents. Making organ donation a topic about LIFE not death is very important. Blake would have died from his injuries from the accident no matter what, but others are LIVING because of his donation.
In closing, I just want to encourage everyone that has been touched in some way by organ donation, recipient or donor family, to share their story with others. By sharing my story, I may be saving the life of a friend or family member in the future if they are ever in need of an organ transplant. I may even be saving my life or yours. Plus, how would I be able to ask someone else to say YES to donate their loved one’s organs if we had not said yes ourselves?
P.S. Bryce has recovered from his injuries but our whole family is still dealing with the loss of a wonderful young man. I am so very thankful for Bryce and his sister Tricia every day.
Educating people on how to obtain a donor card and letting your wishes be upheld by family, friends and hospital personnel is so very important. As we have established, this may be a sensitive topic for certain people who are not comfortable talking about death and life, and therefore awareness to the community’s specific needs should be displayed. For example, having a private conversation to help allay any anxiety would be an appropriate intervention. Communities and families should also receive information kits that could include organ and tissue donation brochures, organ donation pins, sign-up workplace partnership sheets for life organ donation, and list of available resources and web sites for further information (http://www.newenglandorganbank.org).
Although the percentage of potential organ donors is rising annually, new transplant procedures are widening the gap in supply and demand of organs. Many Americans are in favor of organ donation, but fail to inform family members. The shortage of organs can be decreased, however, if those willing to become organ donors discuss their wishes with their next of kin. When they understand the transplant process, grieving families are able to make rational, informed decisions about organ donation, fulfill their loved one’s wishes, and save the lives of others.
Budianin-Saberi, D.A., & Delmonico, F.L. (2008). Trafficking and transplant tourism: a commentary on the global realities. Journal of Transplantation, 8, 925-929
Ben-David & Brawer, O. (2005). Organ donation and transplantation: body organs as an exchangeable socio-cultural resource. Westport CT
Childress, J.F., & Liverman, C.T. (2009). Committee on Increasing Rates of Organ Donation. Organ Donation: Opportunity for Action. Washington DC: The National Academies Press, p. D5.
Munson, R. (2002). Raising the dead: organ transplants, ethics and society. University Press, p. C4.
(n.d.). Retrieved from 5. http://www.unos.org/
(n.d.). Retrieved from 6. http://www.organtransplants.org/
Hendrickson, G., (2008). Organ donation. [Online] Retrieved 01 April 2008 from the Website: http://www.healthdiscovery.com.
OrganDonor.gov. (2008, 31 March). Access to U.S. government information on organ and tissue donation and transplantation. [Online] Retrieved 01 April 2008 from the Website: http://www.organdonor.gov/.