Organ Donation: Bringing the Conversation Home
By: Dr. Howard K. Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
April 22, 2014
Lately, the news is full of information about high tech developments in organ donation and transplantation. For example, there has been talk about advances that could make 3-D printing of organs possible, and others that can help organs last longer during transport. Everyone has high hopes that such progress in technology and medicine will make a profound difference for the future.
But in April, as we observe National Donate Life Month, it's clear that such changes won't come fast enough for people on the national transplant waiting lists--our parents, our children, family, friends and neighbors. While about 28,000 people received a lifesaving transplant last year, that number is dwarfed by the 122,260 people currently waiting for the gift of life, including more than 1800 children.* Tragically, not everyone on the waiting list will receive an organ in time. In fact, each day, 18 people on the transplant waiting list die.
We can act now so others don't have to wait. While nearly 95% of people in the U.S. support donation**, only about half the nation has taken action to register to become organ, eye, and tissue donors. If nearly everyone understands and supports the power of donation, why haven't we all taken action? Why aren't more lives being saved?
There are many reasons. Too many of us simply haven't thought about signing up, much less discussed it with our families. Many may not know where and how to sign up and make our intentions known.
Myths and misunderstandings about donation and transplantation may also prevent some people from registering. For example, many seniors may believe they are too old to be donors. But there have been donors - and recipients -- even in their 90s.
Some with medical conditions, young and old alike, may feel they are not candidates for donation and rule themselves out. But there is no need to do so, as the medical and surgical teams can best determine the suitability of organs, eyes, and tissues for transplantation if the time comes.
And still others may be concerned that doctors won't try to save the life of a person who is a registered donor. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is the fundamental mission of physicians and healers to make every possible effort to save lives. The transplant team is contacted only after it is undeniably clear that nothing further can be done.
If we truly support donation, we can register as donors and voice our intentions to families and loved ones so they can honor our wishes. You can sign up online at any time organdonor.gov or when you renew your driver's license at your state motor vehicle office.
April is a good time to remind everyone that they can make a life-saving contribution. We need to reach a point in the U.S. where our donation decisions mirror our attitudes and best intentions. Any age is the right age to donate and any time is the right time to act. We can talk with our friends and family today so that tomorrow, a time of loss for one family can become a time of renewed health for another.
In short, it's time to bring organ donation home. While we eagerly await new advances in organ donation that are high tech, we can also focus on "home talk" that may blossom someday into the gift of life.
April is National Donate Life Month. Join us in celebrating the lives and stories that organ donors make possible every day, with the new "Made Possible By" print, radio and television PSAs at organdonor.gov.
*OPTN.gov, April 22, 2014.
**2012 National Survey of Organ Donation Attitudes and Behaviors, US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, produced by Gallup Inc., published September 2013.
Follow Dr. Howard K. Koh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@HHS_DrKoh
Content last reviewed on April 7, 2016