It’s April, and you know what that means, right? Nope, not rain showers. Not bunny rabbits and baby chicks. Not the arrival of spring. Give up? It’s National Donate Life Month! Holla!
OK, so all jokes aside, let’s just lay it on the line: The whole issue of organ donation is (dis)colored by the fact that when we talk about it, we’re talking about death. Our death. (Gulp.) So it’s understandable that we’d rather avoid thinking about the whole thing entirely.
But get this: Registering to donate your organs is one of the easiest ways you can make an huge impact on other people’s lives. By registering, you’re potentially extending a lifeline to people who are on the brink of death, or at the very least suffering from extremely debilitating diseases. You’re saying that you want an ailing stranger to have a better quality of life and more time with loved ones. You’re putting your money where your mouth is and taking action to help humanity as a whole.
Who knows where this act of extreme charity could lead? (You won’t. You’ll be deader than a doornail.) You could very well change the world in a major way after you’ve kicked the bucket. “Did you know we only have iPads because we have organ donation?” observes Greg Segal, cofounder of Organize.org. “Steve Jobs lived another 18 months after his [liver] transplant — and was able to give us the iPad.”
It’s high time you get over your excuses about doing this most generous of acts. Excuses like…
But… I don’t know how to do it. Registering to be an organ donor is super easy. You can do it through your state’s DMV. In many states, when you renew your driver’s license you’ll now be asked if you’d like to be an organ donor, and the designation will appear on your new license. You can also register online at OrganDonor.gov; with just a few clicks — and a little sending of snail mail — you’ll be entered into the national database of donors and ready to help someone in their time of need.
But… I’ve already told my family I want to be a donor, so I’m covered. While that’s a good first step, it’s important to officially register as an organ donor; this takes the burden of responsibility off your family in their time of grief and ensures that your wishes will be followed to a T.
But… the whole idea creeps me out. Don’t dwell on the actual process. (You’ll be dead, remember? Dead!) Instead, look past the creep factor and focus on these statistics:
- More than 100,000 people are waiting for transplants.
- On average, 18 people die every day due to the shortage of donors.
- Every organ donor can potentially save up to eight people — and improve 50 more people’s lives (if they donate their eyes and tissues).
But… I want to have a funeral. Thanks to the delicacy of modern surgical techniques, you can still have a “normal” funeral — even an open-casket one. To ease your mind even more, go ahead and put your funeral wishes in writing, so your family can tell the transplant doctors you want to look especially hot at your wake.
But… if emergency docs know I’m a donor, they won’t try hard enough to save me. Adena Osband, MD, a kidney- and pancreas-transplant surgeon at New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, says that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about organ donation. “Many people believe that if you come to an emergency room as somebody who’s very injured… and your organ-donor card is signed, that you’re going get a different type of care — and that the goals of your care are going be different than if you were not an organ donor,” she says. “[But] EMTS aren’t legally allowed to know whether or not you’re an organ donor. Nor is the first round of doctors when you arrive in the ER.”
But… they may declare me dead too soon, just to get my organs faster. Ironically, registering as a donor may actually have the opposite effect. “The safest way to safeguard against [being declared dead too soon] is to register as an organ donor,” says Segal, “because it would necessitate more senior people signing off on your death.”
But… I’m not healthy enough to be a donor. There are no age limits for organ donation, and folks in their 70s can still be tissue donors. Instead of self-selecting out of the donation process, let the doctors decide if your organs and tissue are healthy enough to help other people live. And just so you know, the oldest American donor was 92! That well-lubricated liver of yours isn’t seeming quite so dodgy now, is it?
But… my organs could be sold on the black market, instead of donated. Organ theft can be an issue in other countries, but there’s no black market for organs in the U.S. Not a single sale has ever been reported, and there are multiple laws safeguarding against it. And think about it: If more global citizens registered as organ donors, the black market could potentially cease to exist entirely!
But… my religion forbids organ donation. “If you really delve into the literature and the expert opinions within each religion, most of them have some degree of support for organ donation,” says Osband. “I would encourage people to talk to their religious leaders and others involved in their community to get more information.”
Once you let go of the squick factor, it’s clear that organ donation is one of the most selfless acts possible — and quite a way to leave a lasting legacy after you’ve become living-impaired bought a pine condo passed away.