What it Means to Be an Organ Donor

Posted on April 29, 2021 by Bevis Funeral Home under Preplanning
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Every nine minutes, another person is added to the waiting list for a life-saving organ donation in the U.S. Deciding whether to be an organ donor is an important consideration, and a personal one. If you are unsure whether to register as an organ donor, or you don’t know exactly what that means, here are a few important things to consider.

How great is the need for organ donors?

According to the Mayo Clinic, over 100,00 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Every day, 20 people die while waiting for a life-saving organ. For recipients, receiving a donated organ can mean the difference between life and death.

Despite this need, only 60% of adults in the U.S. are registered as organ donors. Many people are apprehensive about registering for organ donation for various reasons.

Some people fear they will not receive the same level of life-saving care if a recipient is waiting for their donated organs. Others are anxious about being prematurely declared dead in order to secure a donation.

These are common myths, but the truth is, a person is only ever considered as a candidate for organ donation after he or she has been declared dead (or is determined to be brain dead). Before that moment, organ donation is not a consideration. In fact, the team administering life-saving care is never the same team as those who potentially perform an organ donation transplant.

Important protections like these are in place in hospitals across the U.S. to make sure donation status never impacts the life-saving care given to a potential donor.

What does the process of organ donation look like?

A person must pass away in a specific set of circumstances to be eligible as an organ donor. Most often, a deceased person is eligible after passing away from a sudden illness or accident.

When a person has been declared legally dead and has viable organs for donation, the hospital will contact its local Organ Procurement Organization, or OPO, according to the U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation. A representative from that organization will then check if the deceased is registered as an organ donor or if they otherwise indicated they wished to donate. If not, the representative will discuss the potential donation with the deceased’s next of kin.

If the OPO representative receives authorization for the donation to occur, they will begin the process of finding a potential match. This is accomplished through a database called the Organ Procurement and Transportation Network, or OPTN. If the donor has been declared brain dead, their body will be kept alive with an artificial oxygen supply during the search process.

Once one or more matches have been found (in fact, one individual donor can save up to eight lives), the donated organ(s) are surgically removed and quickly transported to the hospital of the recipient(s). Surgeons at the destination will be ready to perform the potentially life-saving transplant.

Am I comfortable with the idea of organ donation?        

Choosing whether to register as an organ donor is an important decision, but it’s not one people often talk about. Dr. Jeffrey Campsen, a transplant surgeon at the University of Utah Hospital, believes people are often too uncomfortable with the topic of death to start the conversation.

“I think that there’s always a fear of death, and who wants to think about their death? Some people do, but most people don’t,” he said in an interview with the University’s Health Sciences Radio. “So avoidance of that conversation is very easy. Once you start talking about it in a time that’s not emotionally charged, rationally, it sounds very good in the sense that if you do die, you can help people.”

If you are unsure whether being a registered organ donor is right for you, talking to others can be a good way to evaluate your own feelings and reasons for your choice.

Ultimately, the choice to be (or not be) a registered organ donor belongs to each individual. It’s important to think carefully about your choice and discuss it with family, trusted friends and your faith leader, if applicable. Most mainstream religions are comfortable with the concept of organ donation, but some have certain stipulations surrounding the process.

What arrangements do I need to make?

If you decide to become a registered organ donor, the registration process is relatively easy.

First, you must register with your state’s donor registry. Next, it’s a good idea to put your status as an organ donor on your driver’s license, which you can do at the DMV next time you renew your license.

Finally, make sure your next-of-kin know about your decision. Although a hospital does not legally need your family’s consent if you are a registered donor, it will make the process much easier. It’s also kinder to your family. Informing them of your donor status in advance means they won’t have to make a difficult decision on your behalf.

Pre-planning your end-of-life arrangements, including your status as an organ donor, is a thoughtful and caring thing to do for your loved ones. With a plan, you’ll reduce stress for grieving loved ones—and simply let them honor and celebrate your life, knowing things are happening just as you wanted. To speak to a knowledgeable funeral director and learn more about pre-planning, call Bevis Funeral Home today at 850-385-2193.

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