There are many misconceptions surrounding organ donation, which may account for the refusal to donate among some families. Despite continuing efforts at public education, myths about donation persist. It’s a tragedy if even one person decides against donation because of a myth.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) has compiled the following list of prevalent organ donation myths.
Wealthy people and celebrities are moved to the top of the list faster than “regular” people.
Fact: The organ allocation and distribution system is blind to wealth or social status. The length of time it takes to receive a transplant is governed by many factors, including blood type, length of time on the waiting list, severity of illness and other medical criteria. Factors such as race, gender, age, income or celebrity status are never considered when determining who receives an organ.
Donation will mutilate my body.
Fact: Donated organs are removed surgically, in a routine operation similar to a gallbladder or appendix being removed. Donation doesn’t disfigure the body or change the way it looks in a casket.
My family will be charged for donating my organs.
Fact: Donation costs nothing to the donor’s family or estate.
If I am in an accident and the hospital knows that I want to be a donor, the doctors will not try to save my life.
Fact: Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. The medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplant team. The organ procurement organization (OPO) is not notified until all lifesaving efforts have failed and death has been declared. The OPO does not notify the transplant team until your family has consented to donation.
I am not the right age for donation.
Fact: Organs may be donated from newborns on up. The general age limit for tissue donation is 70. At the time of your death, the appropriate medical professionals will determine whether your organs are usable.
My religion does not support donation.
Fact: All mainstream organized religions approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it an act of charity.
Only the heart, liver and kidneys can be transplanted.
Fact: Needed organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissue that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.
I have a history of medical illness. You would not want my organs or tissues.
Fact: At the time of death, the appropriate medical professionals will review your health and social histories to determine whether or not you can be a donor. With recent advances in transplantation, many more people than ever before can be donors. It’s best to register your wish at www.DonateLifeTexas.org and tell your family about your wishes.
I don’t need to tell my family that I want to be a donor because I have it written in my will.
Fact: By the time your will is read, it is too late to recover your organs. Telling your family now that you want to be an organ and tissue donor is the best way to ensure that your wishes are carried out.
I have heard about a business traveler who is heavily drugged, then awakes to find he or she had one kidney (or sometimes both) removed for a black market transplant.
Fact: This tale has been widely circulated over the Internet. There is absolutely no evidence of such activity ever occurring in the U.S. or any other industrialized country. While the tale may sound credible, it has no basis in reality. Many people who hear the myths probably dismiss it, but it is possible that some believe it and decide against organ donation out of needless fear.