What people get wrong about organ donation and how it’s ‘one of the most powerful acts of compassion’

Experts say organ donation is a “selfless act” that can save many lives. (Photo: Getty Images)

Most people know that organ donation saves lives and, in fact, over 90% of Americans support organ donation. But only about 50% of American adults are actually registered organ and tissue donors, according to a 2019 government survey.

There may be several reasons why someone has not registered or is hesitant to become an organ donor. So, in honor of National Donor Day on February 14, Yahoo Life reached out to experts to help dispel some myths and misconceptions about organ and tissue donation.

Why is it important to become an organ donor?

“Signing up to become an organ donor is one of the most powerful acts of compassion and generosity a person can do,” Rick Hasz, president and CEO of the Gift of Life program, told Yahoo Life. Life Donor Program. “The impact of a donor is enormous. An organ donor can save up to eight lives and a tissue donor can heal and transform the lives of over 100 others.

Gordon Bowen, chief executive of the nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization Lifebanc, told Yahoo Life that the need for organs “far exceeds the current number of vital donations available. The lack of organs available for transplantation is an urgent public health problem.

In the United States, more than 100,000 children and adults are waiting for life-saving transplants and 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant, according to the United States Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

“Put simply, the need is great and you have the power to address it by becoming an organ donor,” says Bowen, who calls organ donation a “selfless act.”

Organs that can be donated include kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, and intestines. “The majority of people on the transplant waiting list are waiting for kidneys, often linked to prevalent conditions like hypertension and diabetes,” Hasz says.

Tissue donation includes bones “to repair fractures and prevent amputations, skin to treat burns, and heart valve donations to repair life-threatening defects,” Hasz says. “Tissue donors can also donate their corneas, which can give sight to two recipients.”

As Hasz says, “Transplants give people a second chance at life, so they can live active and fulfilling lives, including work, travel, marriage, having children, playing sports and more. again.”

Here are some common misconceptions about organ and tissue donation:

Myth #1: Paramedics won’t work as hard to save a patient if they know the patient is an organ donor

Experts point out that this fear is unfounded. “When you are sick or injured and admitted to hospital, the one and only priority is to save your life,” Hasz says. “Organ and tissue donation is not an option until all hope of saving someone has been exhausted. Paramedics, doctors and nurses are doing all they can to save every patient. »

Bowen also points out that “organ and tissue recovery only occurs after all efforts to save your life are exhausted and death is declared. The doctors and EMTs/paramedics working to save your life are entirely separate from the medical team involved in organ and tissue recovery.

Myth #2: Organ and tissue donation is against their religion

“All major religions endorse organ and tissue donation,” says Bowen, “and regard it as one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity.”

Hasz agrees, adding that the donation is “one of the ultimate acts of compassion, humanity and love.”

The Donate Life America website provides a list of different religions and their views on organ donation. For example, according to Donate Life America, in Judaism, organ donation is “encouraged” and viewed “not only as an act of kindness, but…also as an ‘enforced obligation’ that saves human lives.” In Catholicism, organ donation is considered “an acceptable act of kindness in the Roman Catholic Church”. In Hinduism, organ donation is not prohibited by religious law, according to Donate Life.

In addition, organ donation and transplantation are considered “Islamically permissible in principle” and when done with “good intention, organ donation can be considered an act of rewarded charity”, according to the Fiqh Council of North America. Bowen suggests contacting your religious advisor if you have questions or concerns about organ donation.

Myth #3: You can’t have an open casket funeral if you donate organs

Organ and tissue donation “does not interfere with an open casket or any other final arrangement,” Hasz notes. “Throughout the donation process, the donor, who is in fact a hero, is treated with the utmost care, respect and dignity.”

Bowen backs this up, explaining that donors are treated with “great dignity and respect throughout the donation process.” He adds, “Trained surgeons and medical professionals remove organs and tissue in a surgical procedure that does not interfere with normal funeral arrangements. Open casket viewings, burial and cremation can all take place.

Myth #4: Rich or famous people on the waiting list get organs faster

Hasz says that’s just not true. He explains that there is a national computer system that matches donated organs with recipients. “Factors used in matching include blood type, time spent waiting, other important medical information, the person’s degree of illness, and geographic location,” Hasz explains. “Race, income and fame are never considered.”

Myth 5: There is an age limit for organ donation

All adults in the United States can register to be an organ donor, and in some states, those under 18 can register with permission from a parent or guardian, according to HRSA.

As Bowen says, “You are never too old to be an organ, eye or tissue donor – in fact, the oldest organ donor was 95 and the tissue and cornea donor the oldest was 107. Your age or state of health should not prevent you from registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Rather than age alone, the ability to donate organs and tissues depends on the circumstances of a person’s death and their health at the time, Hasz explains. “Everyone is encouraged to register to be a donor and has the potential to save and heal lives, regardless of age or medical history,” he says.

To register to become an organ donor, you can register by state on the US Health Resources and Service Administration website or in person at your local DMV.

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