With the Covid-19 Pandemic continuing to dominate the headlines, it’s easy to forget that other serious healthcare challenges continue unabated. Among these is the profound disparity between supply and demand when it comes to organ and tissue donation.
According to the US Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), there are currently 109,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, including individuals of every age, ethnicity, and gender, with another name being added to the list every nine minutes. Tragically, the actual number of organ transplants performed each year falls far short of the demand. In fact, in 2019, only 39,718 transplants were performed. To put this disparity in stark perspective, consider that every day in the United States, approximately 17 people die while waiting for a lifesaving organ donation.
Several factors contribute to the shortfall in organ donations. One major factor is simply that too few individuals who support organ donation actually take the step to register themselves as donors. The 2019 National Survey of Organ Donation Attitudes and Practices revealed that 90 percent of adults in the US support the practice of organ donation, yet only 50 percent of these individuals are signed up as donors. Combine that with the reality that only about three in every thousand people die in a way that allows for organ donation, and it’s easy to understand why many people who desperately need an organ transplant languish on the waiting list.
Several persistent myths about organ donation may also play a role in impeding people’s willingness to register as donors. The HRSA helps dispel these misconceptions with the following facts (source: organdonor.gov):
Myth: I have a medical condition, so I can’t be a donor.
Fact: Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will determine at an individual’s time of death whether donation is possible. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.
Myth: I’m too old to be a donor.
Fact: There’s no age limit to organ donation. To date, the oldest donor in the US was age 93. What matters is the health and condition of your organs when you die.
Myth: I don’t think my religion supports organ donation.
Fact: Most major religions in the United States support donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
Myth: If they see I’m a donor at the hospital, they won’t try to save my life.
Fact: When you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the one and only priority is to save your life. Period. Donation doesn’t become a possibility until all lifesaving methods have failed.
Myth: Rich or famous people on the waiting list get organs faster.
Fact: A national computer system matches donated organs to recipients. The factors used in matching include blood type, time spent waiting, other important medical information, how sick the person is, and geographic location. Race, income, and celebrity are never considered.
Myth: My family won’t be able to have an open-casket funeral if I’m a donor.
Fact: An open-casket funeral is usually possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care, respect, and dignity.
Myth: My family will have to pay for the donation.
Fact: There is no cost to donors or their families for organ or tissue donation.
Myth: Someone could take my organs and sell them.
Fact: Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the US. Violators can be punished with prison sentences and fines.
Myth: If I’m in a coma, they could take my organs.
Fact: The majority of deceased organ donors are patients who have been declared brain dead. But brain death is not the same as coma. People can recover from comas but not from brain death. Brain death is final.
Myth: People in the LGBT community can’t donate.
Fact: There is no policy or federal regulation that excludes a member of the LGBT community from donating organs. What matters in donating organs is the health of the organs.
In addition to learning these facts and sharing them with others, the best thing you can do to ensure no one is kept waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant is to sign up as a donor on your state’s registry. This can be accomplished in person at your local Ohio BMV location or online at bmv.ohio.gov (click on “Online Services” then on “Organ Donor”).
Remember, your selfless act of organ donation can save as many as eight lives!