Human organ and tissue donations, the bequest of a dying person or his relatives, are gifts that save lives. Money can’t buy them. Nobody pays a fee to give or get an organ. Though the history of successful organ transplants is scarcely 35 years old , today’s new drugs and technology, coupled with a fuller understanding of the immune system, make it likelier than ever that transplant surgery will succeed . Yet without donors, doctors can do nothing.

The need is pressing. More than 10,000 Americans are on the waiting list for kidney donations; another 1,500 await hearts and other organs; tens of thousands need corneas, bones, and skin grafts. In all 100,000 stands to benefit right now. But the notion of becoming a donor remains new and unexplored for many people. That’s why it’s important to talk now to relatives and friends about the whys and wherefores of organ donation. Even if You’ve signed a card , consent of next of kin is mandatory before an organ can be removed . They should know your wishes in advance.

Unlike those who make living donations of bone marrow, kidneys, or skin, those who make bequests run no risks. If you agree to become a donor, you and your family can be sure that your medical care will not suffer. Donation procedures begin only once medically acceptable donors are certified brain dead, usually by a team of physicians — who never participate in the recovery of patients’ organs. Families may worry that organ donation will cost money or cause other problems. But no organ — recovery expenses are billed to survivors, no disfigurement is involved, and there is no need for special funeral arrangements. Becoming a donor is easy. All you do is sign an organ donor card, witnessed by two friends or relatives, and carry it with you. If you change your mind, you simply inform your next of kin and tear up the card (or, if your state uses the back of your driver’s license, cross out your pledge).

In hospitals, permission to remove organs for use was until recently granted by only 20% of the terminally ill (or their families) who constitute the pool of immediately available donors. Another 10% refused permission. But a significant 70% were never even asked. New federal legislation now requires all hospitals engaged in transplantation to broach the subject of organ donation with the families of dying patients. Failure to comply will disqualify a hospital from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

The law also stringently regulates the allocation of donated organs according to a standard checklist of specific criteria. The plan, coordinated by the United Network for Organ Sharing, should restore equity to a system occasionally distorted in the past by families who drummed up media support in their panicky efforts to obtain scarce organs. It makes sense to help forestall both panic and scarcity by deciding to become a donor now.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 3, 1988