Journals

Life After Death: Why Organ Donation Is a Moral Obligation

Welcome to a subject nobody wants to think about, but one that everyone should be signed up for. We’re talking about organ donation, or “How to save a life or two after you’re gone.” Let’s note for the record that a death under any circumstance is hard on the loved ones; there’s so much to process at that final moment in terms of grief, to say nothing of the practical and financial matters that need seeing to. In other words, you’d be forgiven for not wanting to think about organ donation after a loved one has passed.

Still, if you’ve already designated yourself an organ donor, or you’ve convinced a loved one or a patient to do the same, then America thanks you; you’ve done a brave and noble thing. But if you’re still on the fence, separating fact from fiction might go a long way toward dispelling your concerns.

Start With the Need

As a concept, organ donation is actually very popular. An overwhelming majority (90 percent) of Americans support the program—at least in theory. That sounds like great news until we look at the number of people who are actually registered organ donors. Only 45% of Americans are registered for the program. At first glance, that might seem like a lot of people willing to donate. But it’s not nearly enough.

On average, 21 people die each day because they are unable to secure the organs they need to survive. That breaks down to a single death every hour and a half, which means the organ donor waiting list is long and growing longer every day. According to medical studies, a new patient is added to that organ donor waiting list every ten minutes. Why aren’t more people signed up to become organ donors? That's where the myths and realities come into play.

Myth #1: As an organ donor, the hospital won’t work hard to keep you alive.

That sounds like the plot of a bad horror movie, but it’s far removed from reality. The truth is that organ donation only becomes a consideration after a person has expired.

Another myth is that ailing patients can be declared dead, even when they’re not, just because there’s a party waiting for their organs. Thankfully, the reality is very much the opposite. A person who is a registered organ donor will actually be given additional tests to definitively decide on their end-of-life status, and those tests won't cost the patient's family one dime. In other words, death can happen for a number of unfortunate reasons, but someone getting impatient for your organs will never be among them.

Myth #2: Only young people can give organs; only rich people can receive them.

When it comes to organ donation, there isn’t any discrimination. The official stance is that anyone can become a donor regardless of their age, race, or medical condition. As heartbreaking as it might be to consider, even young children need organ transplants from young donors.

And when it comes to deciding who receives a donated organ, it’s worth noting that socioeconomic status is not counted among the criteria. Many factors go into deciding who can become a recipient of an organ or tissue donation, including the severity of the patient’s illness, their blood type, the amount of time a patient has been on the waiting list, and other pertinent medical information. A person’s financial records or celebrity status doesn’t come into play.

Myth #3: It costs extra to be an organ donor.

The truth is that the costs to the donor are zero. All expenses for the organ donation procedures are covered by the hospital.

Myth #4: Donating organs is against certain religions.

If by “certain religions” you mean Roman Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and Protestantism, then you would be wrong. All of those faiths deem organ donation as a wonderful final act of charity. Of course, you can always ask your clergy to clarify your faith’s position, but as a general rule they can be expected to support the selfless act that is organ donation.

Myth #5: Organ donors can only have a sealed casket funeral.

Great care is provided to a person who has chosen to donate their organs. Their body is treated with the same level of respect and dignity as anyone else who is recently deceased. As for the open casket funeral, if that is the wish of the donor, then that can certainly be carried out and no one will know the difference.

Ready to Donate?

If you still need help convincing yourself or someone else of the merits of becoming a donor, consider this: a single organ donor can save up to eight lives. That’s a beautiful legacy for such a simple gesture. The easiest way to donate is through your driver’s license; the next time you go for a renewal, simply check off the box for organ donation. You can also register online through your state.

And when you do become an organ donor, you’ve also earned some bragging rights. That means you get to tell everyone you’re on board with the program, and boast of the difference you’re making. If everyone you knew followed suit, the organ donation wish list might someday become a thing of the past.

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