Season of Giving

The Chronicle today has one in what I am sure will be a series of Christmas tearjerkers designed to fill us with guilt and pity. Read it if you’d like: it’s tragic need for organ donation meets poetic love story. Or don’t. It is a story that is repeated all over the country on a frequent basis.

According to the article, 10-15% of the people in the United States who critically need organs will die before they get them. That means that if you are ever on a transplant list, you have an 85% chance of getting the organ you need, and that chance goes down if you are a severe case: the bleak truth is that if you are in urgent need, you may not get an organ in time.

To match for an organ, it must be from someone who has the same blood type you do. That person also must be a candidate for organ donation, which usually involves being brain dead. In addition, the individual has to be close enough for the organ to logistically be brought to you, which means you stand a better chance of getting an organ if you live in an urban area.

In some cases, organs and tissue can be harvested from the living, as is the case with some skin grafts, getting a single kidney, or something along those lines. In most cases, though, someone has to die for your organ. Which is a sobering thought, that in the moment of celebration over your new lease on life, someone somewhere else is mourning.

It is even more tragic that thousands of organs are wasted every year. Perfectly good, usable kidneys, lungs, livers, hearts…thrown away, incinerated, buried in the ground. Some people may have a personal objection to organ donation, or may be disturbed by it, but it seems silly to waste your organs when you are dead. You don’t have a use for them, most religions including Islam support organ donation, and there might be someone in need somewhere that you could help.

By donating your organs, you have the potential to save multiple lives, to save someone’s vision, to help a burn victim. That is a pretty neat thing, that in death you can be generous. Especially at this time of year, when everyone is harping on generosity and gifts, why not talk to your loved ones about organ donation? Make sure that your wishes are clearly expressed now, because it will save your family from making a heart rending decision later.

If you are eligible to donate organs, make sure that you carry a donor card in your wallet and that your family understands that you would like your organs to be donated. When the time comes, it may not even be practical or feasible to donate, but wouldn’t it be a pity if two people died instead of one?

If you would like to learn more about the organ donation process, Mary Roach has a great chapter on it in Stiff, talking about beating heart donation. Several other journalists have written about the process, from determination of brain death to the transplant of an organ. And in case you are worried about having your organs taken before you are ready to give them up: the process to ensure that you are brain dead is a complex one, and numerous medical tests are run to determine that you will not recover from your injuries.

You can offer yourself as a donor at any age, so why not let other people use your body when you are done with it?

[organ donation]