No matter how the organs are distributed, organ donation in the United States is a win-lose equation. When one person on a waiting list receives a lung, another person who is also on that list does not. As of Tuesday June 25, 2013 at 1:59am, 75,945 people across the United States were on active waiting lists for organs.
America has been rooting for 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan through her successful battle to receive a lung transplant. Throughout her struggle, the spotlight has been on the appropriateness of the rules for organ allocation. While those rules attempt to ensure fairness, they do not change the fact that there are not enough organs for everyone.
Eighteen people die every day waiting on the list. To solve this organ shortage crisis we need more organ donors. In the wake of Sarah’s story, many people have signed up. However, only about 45 percent of adults in the United States are registered organ donors.
But simply registering with your state to be an organ donor is only part of the solution. Here’s why: First, the opportunity to be eligible to donate is rare. In 2007, (the year with the most recent data) there were almost 2.5 million deaths in the United States. Studies have shown that approximately 18,000 of those deaths had the potential to result in an organ donation. A combination of factors including health, age, and manner of death combine to make organ donation a rare opportunity that not many families have.
Second, when faced with that opportunity, the biggest obstacle to transplantation is family refusal. Only 8,143 people became deceased organ donors in the United States in 2012. The difference between the number of potential organ donors and the number of actual donors is largely attributable to family refusal. The process of donation is heavily dependent on family cooperation. If your family members don’t know that you want to be a donor, it can be shocking for them to hear about it in the face of tragedy.
Families often refuse to permit donation even when they know the decedent chose to be a donor. In most states, even if you are donor designated, if your family refuses to honor that wish when the time comes, donation will not move forward. If you want to be a donor, tell your loved ones about your decision.
When surveyed, 90% of people in America consistently support organ donation. This statistic received notice when the news of little Sarah’s plight broke. People from all over the country wanted to help. After all, when we come face-to-face with a tragedy, most of us are willing to act. Some offered one of their own lungs, and others registered with their state to become organ donors. But more is needed. To ensure that people like Sarah have the chance to get an organ, first register to donate and then spread the word.
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