Becoming an organ donor requires more thought than a Facebook click

Facebook recently announced on Good Morning America that users in the U.S. and the U.K. can enroll as organ donors through links to official registries, making it easier for people who want to donate their organs to sign up. They’re working with Donate Life America, a nonprofit alliance of national organizations and state teams across the United States committed to increasing organ, eye and tissue donation.

But deciding to become an organ donor shouldn’t be in the same class of impetuous decisions such as a Facebook click adding a new event to your timeline, “liking” a movie or commenting on a friend’s new post. It’s a very serious decision and is best made in the context of a real-life situation.

And the trouble is, you’re not going to have a seat around the table when your organ donation potential comes up for discussion.

If you have a donor card or have indicated a willingness to donate your organs on your driver’s license — or perhaps on Facebook — the hospital staff will be the ones to decide whether you’re ready to donate your organs. Your family, spouse or life partner will have little or no input.

Under the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA), hospitals set their own standards and protocols to determine if you’re legally alive. There’s a wide variation in protocols, according to a study published in Neurology.  The study concluded: “Adherence to the American Academy of Neurology guidelines is variable … There are substantial differences in practice which may have consequences for the determination of death and initiation of transplant procedures.”

So one hospital may decide you’re “brain dead,” while another would not. Some facilities have transplant teams that stand ready to do transplants. Some do not. A lot may depend on the hospital’s definition and the judgment of people at the scene who are involved in organ transplantation.

I wouldn’t want to say anything that would decrease the number of donations from people who are absolutely — without a doubt — unable to sustain life and willing to donate their bodies to others.  But I haven’t signed a donor card nor indicated on my driver’s license, or a social media site, that I’d like to donate my organs.

Instead, I’ve talked to my husband and children and said, “You know me. If you think I wouldn’t want to keep trying to stay alive and the evidence strongly suggests that I am essentially dead, feel free to donate any parts of me that are worth something to someone else. But do so only to the extent that you, the living, will feel comfortable with the outcome.”

Barbara Bronson Gray is a nurse who blogs at BodBoss.

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  • John Ballard

    Serious and excellent point. 
    Looking at the bright side, at least it’s yet another attempt to get more conversations going about the subject. Misinformation and oversimplification are better than being oblivious to the issue, which is where the majority remains. 

  • Mark Arnold

    John Prine said it

    Put on my slippers
    Walked in the kitchen and died
    And oh what a feeling!
    When my soul
    Went thru the ceiling
    And on up into heaven I did ride
    When I got there they did say
    John, it happened this way
    You slipped upon the floor
    And hit your head
    And all the angels say
    Just before you passed away
    These were the very last words
    That you said:

    Please don’t bury me
    Down in that cold cold ground
    No, I’d druther have “em” cut me up
    And pass me all around
    Throw my brain in a hurricane
    And the blind can have my eyes
    And the deaf can take both of my ears
    If they don’t mind the size
    Give my stomach to milwaukee
    If they run out of beer
    Put my socks in a cedar box
    Just get “em” out of here
    Venus de milo can have my arms
    Look out! I’ve got your nose
    Sell my heart to the junkman
    And give my love to rose

    Repeat chorus

    Give my feet to the footloose
    Careless, fancy free
    Give my knees to the needy
    Don’t pull that stuff on me
    Hand me down my walking cane
    It’s a sin to tell a lie
    Send my mouth way down south
    And kiss my as* goodbye

    Repeat chorus
    d it.

  • Jenna Smith

    AAMOF, I’ve just removed myself from the organ donor rolls on my driver’s license.  It’s in my living will, too:  no organ or tissue donation.  Why?  It’s complicated, but basically I’m not interested in participating.  (I wouldn’t accept a donated organ or tissue, either – not interested in permanent patient status.)

  • Catherine_Gander

    The author’s reasons for caution make sense. I recently read an article by another physcian that recommended an additional step other than changing your living will and driver’s license to remove organ donor consent. Because of the different protocols used to decide when organs may be removed, your medical surrogate or family member should also insist that anesthesia be used during organ removal.The author posited that it was possible that pain could still be experienced.  

    • Jenna Smith

      I’m fairly certain that making my wishes clear – I do NOT wish to be an organ or tissue donor – is sufficient protection.  In the unlikely event that a physician were to go against my wishes, my family has instructions to sue for malpractice as I’ve explicitly stated that I do not give consent to donate.

  • Real World Fitness

    Having seen both sides of this – my wife’s cousin was killed in Afghanistan and was an organ donor whose heart went to save a family member (and other organs went to numerous others) – I tend to be more in favor of organ donation than not. 

    While I suppose it’s theoretically possible that a hospital would start “harvesting” a donor’s organs prior to them actually being dead, to me that seems more like an extreme abnormal condition rather than something that would occur on a regular basis.I’m remaining a donor – my family knows my position on this, and should I ever be in a position to help another through my own misfortune, I would be honored to do so as I certainly would have no more need for those organs.

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