April is Organ Donation Awareness Month, and Boston Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Transplant Center would like to remind people just how important organ donation is to saving thousands of lives, including children. Right now 120,000 people are on the organ donation list, and 1,735 of those people are pediatric patients. (Of all these patients, 18 will die every day waiting for an organ to become available.)
Data shows that a majority of Americans are aware and supportive of organ donation, but only about 60 percent actually take the steps to become an organ donor. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting more people to register as organ donors is misinformation about the process. To help clear up any doubts our readers may have, we’ve created the following list of the more common myths about organ donation and explained why they are untrue.
Myth: Doctors don’t work as hard to save patients who are organ donors because there is such a big need for donated organs.
Truth: For all medical professionals, the first and most important goal is to treat and help their patients. What’s more, organ donation is organized and orchestrated through an impartial third party called an organ procurement and transplantation network (OPTN), so a medical team treating a patient has no knowledge or say in how a person’s organs are allocated. In many cases, while the doctors are trying to save a patient they will have no idea if he or she is eligible to be an organ donor.
Myth: I’ve heard of people who were declared dead that weren’t really gone. I don’t want to lose an organ if I still need it!
Truth: These types of stories make for great headlines, but cases of people being declared dead when they are actually alive are extremely rare in the United States. To be extra careful, the medical community has created specialized tests that are performed in order to confirm that a patient’s brain has, in fact, died. Only after the person has been declared dead can the process of organ donation begin.
Myth: Organ donation is against my religion.
Truth: Everyone’s religious beliefs are personal and should be respected. But it should be noted that organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most religions including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and most branches of Judaism. If you are unsure about how you feel about organ donation on a spiritual level, please speak with a member of your clergy to discuss the process.
Myth: Only people over 18 can be organ donors.
Truth: Only people over the age of 18 can declare themselves to be organ donors. But parents can authorize the decision for children younger than 18. If you are interested in being an organ donor but are not of age, discuss the option with your parents.
Myth: If I donate organs I won’t be able to have an open-casket funeral when I die.
Truth: A careful surgical process is used in organ donation, leaving as few incisions as possible. And those incisions are on parts of the body that are normally concealed by clothing. If the person being buried is fully clothed, there will be no visible signs that he or she has donated organs, making an open casket a perfectly valid option for anyone who wishes to donate.
Myth: I’m not in the best physical shape or health; my organs wouldn’t be useful.
Truth: There are very few medical conditions that would make your organs ineligible for donation. Even then, only after the patient has died and been examined by the organ procurement coordinator can it be truly decided that your organs could be used to help someone else. By agreeing to be an organ donor, regardless of your current health, you are offering the use of one or more of your organs to save another’s life.
Myth: At my age there’s no way any of my organs could be used to help a younger person.
Truth: There are no age limits on organs. In fact some organs, like the liver, age remarkably well and can be of use for many, many years when transplanted into a younger person.
Myth: I’d be fine donating some organs, but there are others that I’d prefer not to. But once you agree to be a donor you agree to donate all your organs.
Truth: If you prefer to donate only certain organs it’s within your right to do so, and those wishes absolutely will be followed.
Myth: I heard a story about a man who died, and then his family was billed by the insurance company for services related to recovery of the donated organs!
Truth: The family is not responsible for costs associated with organ donation. Though very rare, there have been a few cases where insurance companies have incorrectly billed the families of organ donors for services related to the organ donation, but this mistake is easily fixed through the insurance company and/or organ procurement organization involved.
Myth: Rich and famous people always get organs they need, but regular people aren’t so lucky. I’m not comfortable with that system.
Truth: To be placed on the organ donor waiting list there must be reliable, objective medical information concerning the urgency and need for an organ transplant, regardless of the patient’s identity or social status. Once a person is listed for an organ transplant the decision of which patients receive organs is objectively based only on the severity of the patient’s illness and length of time on the waiting list. There is no way money, power or prestige can influence the allocation process.
Are you interested in being an organ donor but aren’t sure how? It only takes five minutes and can easily be done by visiting Donate Life’s website or through the Department of Motor Vehicles website.