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[Image via Durham Pro Bono Society]When you consider whether to be an organ, eye and tissue donor, it’s very important that you make an informed decision. Here are 10 key facts that we hope will encourage you to give the Gift of Life.
If you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the FIRST PRIORITY for emergency physicians and nurses is to SAVE YOUR LIFE, regardless of whether or not you have registered to be an organ donor. Doctors and nurses in the emergency room have a single mission: To save your life, not someone else’s. They don’t know—and would never ask—whether you had signed to be an organ donor. The emergency department doctors are completely separate from doctors who perform organ transplants.
Someone who is declared brain dead is clinically and legally dead. Brain death is different than coma or persistent vegetative state. Brain death occurs when a person has an irreversible, catastrophic brain injury, which causes total cessation of all brain function (the upper brain structure and brain stem). Laws strictly prohibit doctors who have declared a patient brain dead from participating in the recovery and transplantation of donated organs. The protocol to be declared brain dead is the same whether a person is an organ donor or not. Until organs are recovered for transplant, mechanical support (a ventilator) continues to supply oxygen to the organs. THE MACHINE IS NOT KEEPING THE PATIENT “ALIVE” (brain death, as we said, is irreversible); it is merely keeping the organs viable until they can be recovered. The use of the phrase “life support” does NOT, therefore, apply to brain death. “Life support” may only be appropriate when there is a chance of recovery, for example, in the case of coma.
Everyone waiting for a transplant is treated fairly and with respect. Objective medical criteria determine how donated organs are allocated to patients on the transplant waiting list. A national system matches donated organs to people on the waiting list based on a number of factors including the donor’s blood type and body size, the severity of illness of potential recipients, tissue type, distance, and length of time someone has been on the waiting list. The race, ethnicity, gender or social status of the donor or potential recipients IS NEVER taken into account.
Even though you may think that signing your driver’s license is the best way to become an organ donor, the recommended way is to enroll with an organ donor registry. Signing your driver’s license is helpful but it’s possible no one will be able to find your driver’s license if the situation should arise where you could be an organ donor. It’s also important to inform your family or next-of-kin about your decision so they know your wishes. One organ donor can save up to eight lives, so please signup to be a donor.
Don’t assume you aren’t healthy enough to donate; medical staff will do thorough testing at the time of death to make that determination. Don’t rule yourself out prematurely: Whatever your medical history may be, you should still enroll to become an organ donor. If you have an illness such as diabetes, hypertension or even cancer, medical professionals and medical tests at the time of your death will determine whether your organs are suitable for transplantation. It may turn out that certain organs aren’t suitable for transplantation, but others may help save lives.
Any age is the right age to be an organ donor. People are never too old to save lives. No matter how old you are, you may be able to become an organ donor. In fact, organs have been donated and transplanted from donors in their 90s. As in the case of your medical condition at the time of death, doctors and medical tests will determine what organs can be donated to help others.
There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for organ donation. If you agree to donate your organs, your family will never be charged for costs associated with donation. As would occur in situations not involving organ donation, your family (or your insurance company) is responsible for paying for medical care up to the point of death. Those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as being related to organ donation. Funeral costs remain the family’s responsibility.
Donation does not disfigure the donor’s body. Throughout the entire donation process, the donor’s body is treated with care, respect, and dignity. Donated organs are removed surgically in a meticulously controlled operating room environment. Open-casket viewing is possible following donation.
All major religions approve of organ donation. Leaders of all major religions consider organ donation to be the final act of love and generosity toward others, one of the noblest acts of charity.
FACT #10: It is illegal to sell or buy organs in the United States.
Anyone found guilty of black market crimes will be rigorously prosecuted to the full extent of the law. In fact, unauthorized removal of organs under any circumstances is illegal.
So after looking at these facts, have you decided to think seriously about donating your organs? You never know who you may be helping, and what happiness you may bring to another family. February 14 is National Donor Day–a good day to bring up the conversation with your loved ones, too. If you are an organ donor, this can also be communicated on an organ donor medical ID bracelet or necklace to ensure doctors know your wishes if you cannot speak for yourself, although your family will have the final say so it is important to have the discussion.
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