Monday, June 09, 2008

Organ Donation Doubts

In California, if you want to be an organ donor, you get a little sticker to put somewhere on your driver's license. I don't have one of those stickers, so I don't know what it looks like. Maybe it's just me, but I get the feeling that people who don't get the sticker are looked down on somehow. Like they hate people or something.

I don't hate people, but I've had this nagging doubt that if I put the sticker on my drivers license, the medical profession might not try quite as hard to revive me as they would if they knew they weren't getting any of my body parts. I want to be resuscitated and kept on life support and all the things they can do to prolong my life. And that usually means keeping all my parts to myself.

Now it seems I have validation of my concern (call it paranoia, if you prefer). Paul A. Byrne, M.D., wrote an article for Renew America Friday describing the perils of organ donation (emphasis in the original).

Recent news reports of responses in persons declared "brain dead" should have alerted everyone that "brain death" is not true death. In at least two cases, the observed response prevented the organ transplantation protocols from going further. Zack Dunlap later reported how he could hear discussions of his death, but he could not respond at that time. Val Thomas had flat brain waves for 17 hours before her response was observed.

We are continually bombarded with ads to be an organ donor. We are told that we are giving the "gift of life" in organ donation. We are led to believe that organs are taken for transplantation after true death — i.e., after the heart and circulation stops and there is no known way to restore them. We are seldom, if ever, made aware that after true death, the heart, liver, and other vital organs are not suitable for transplantation.

If the [Organ Procurement Organization (OPO)] determines that your organs are suitable, a "designated requestor" is sent to the hospital to seek permission from relatives, close friends, or a government official. This is done under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) that was passed in all 50 States in 1968. The Revised Act 2006 has already been revised in 30 states. The Revised Act has been introduced in 10 more states this year. This Revised Act (2006) makes everyone a "prospective donor." This means that it is presumed that you intend to be an organ donor unless you have signed a refusal.

The Revised Act has language that does not protect the life of the prospective donor and does not benefit ordinary citizens. It appears to discriminate by looking so hard at facilitating the obtaining of organs for transplantation that it overrides the fully and explicitly informed consent of the donor?

A "prospective donor," according to this bill, may be someone who is "near death" and yet the organ procurement medical team can initiate measures that may actually do harm to the still-living potential donor — such as increasing fluids to a head-injured patient, administering heparin and Regitine, etc., in order to "ensure the medical suitability of an organ." It is absolutely appalling to think that once a person is identified as a potential donor, organs for transplant become more important than the person to whom they belong!

Yes, much is being done to get your organs. For an organ to be suitable for transplantation, it must be a healthy organ and must come from a living person. Please wake up! Organ excision does not benefit the person from whom the organs are taken.

There's a lot of detail in the article, most of it depressing. If, like me, you want to keep your vital organs as long as possible, you'll have to to make your wishes very clear.


Dave said...

If you're not willing to donate your organs after you die, you shouldn't be willing to accept an organ transplant if you ever need one to live.

About 50% of the organs transplanted in America go to people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die. As long as we let non-donors jump to the front of the waiting list if they need a transplant we'll always have an organ shortage.

There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

janice said...

I just took the sticker off my driver's license. I want to live!

SkyePuppy said...


It seems you missed my point. I am not willing to have my death hastened so that somebody else can have the benefit of organs that are currently benefiting me. Here's a quote from Dr. Byrne's article regarding the various sets of tests that can be used for determining brain death:

"Every set includes an Apnea Test. This test is done by taking away the life supporting ventilator for up to 10 minutes. This is medical strangulation. The patient can only get worse with this test. This test is commonly done without requesting permission. If this isn't enough to draw attention — when a patient does not fulfill any of these differing brain related criteria, but the desire is to get the organs — a Do-Not-Resuscitate order (DNR) is obtained. Then the ventilator — i.e., life support — is removed. When the patient is without a pulse (not without heart beat) for 2-5 minutes, this becomes the signal to take the organs. This is labeled death by cardiac death (DCD)." (emphasis in the original)

Sorry, but I don't think that's what most people believe they're signing up for when they put the little sticker on their driver's license.

I'm glad you stopped by.

SkyePuppy said...


It looks like just taking the sticker off your driver's license may not be enough, if the law changes to an "opt-out" system, which is the direction it's headed. We may have to actively refuse organ donation.

I have a "be sure to recusitate" directive on file, which was a bit difficult to set up, since they're geared for the "do not recusitate" directives. I'm not sure how well that will work, let alone if I add a refusal to donate. The doctors could refuse to read my directives...

Malott said...

1) There needs to be more transparency... The public needs to be informed about exactly what happens in the process.

2) Dave has a great idea. Except in the case of a child... Donors should be at the front of the line.

3) If my brain is scrambled - I don't care what they do - Or how they hasten my death - My life is over - Let some 30-year-old father have my heart, kidneys, or whatever.
And if I'm one in a million and I might have survived? I forgive them.

SkyePuppy said...


I agree with you on most of your points. I just want the opportunity to be Zack Dunlap, whose brain was apparently NOT scrambled when they declared him brain dead.

Malott said...

It's kind of like the rare cases of "innocent men" and the death penalty.

Jacob said...

Wow. Paranoid much?

People who think they need their organs after they are dead are idiots. Thinking that doctors are going to let you die so they can harvest your organs is... mind boggling stupid.

Jacob said...

Hm, I just read Dave's theory, which makes a lot of sense. I would hate to have my valuable, above-market-value organs given off to some ungrateful wretch.

Also, let the bears pay the bear tax.

(Points to anyone who gets the reference there.)

Bekah said...

Kind of unsettling to think about all the way around! I truly had no idea about any of this...

SkyePuppy said...


No points to me about the bear tax.

I can always count on you to... well... call me names.

Did you read the article where Dr. Byrne said doctors are going to let you die so they can harvest your organs? That's the part that really bothered me.


I'm still trying to sort this all out. I know the next life is fabulous (Jacob, I'm not talking to you), but every fiber of my being clings to every vestige of life I can get here on earth. I don't want the medical community to start prying my fingers off my own life, if it comes to that.

Jacob said...

Well, it's fairly simple. Being that paranoid about doctors is stupid, therefore people who allow it to affect their decisions are (say it with me) idiots.