Organ Donation: Why Not?

Most of you have probably heard that gadget tycoon Steve Jobs died this week. He only stepped down from his position at Apple very recently, as his struggle with pancreatic cancer had made it too difficult to continue his work. As a proud owner of an iPhone, it got me to wondering what other amazing technologies Jobs would have contributed to had he been offered a few more years of health.

Jobs was lucky enough to receive a pancreatic transplant, and subsequently a liver transplant, and yet it seems likely that his cancer was the ultimate cause of his death. Did he, like so many others, lose his life due to the near-impossibility of procuring organs for transplant? Although by no means proven in this case, huge waiting lists for donor organs gives cancer time to spread to healthy tissue, and this can mean that transplants which may have been useful no longer have a long-term benefit. It seemed important to find out more about organ donation and why, in a world of 6 billion people, donors are so lacking in number.

Firstly, you might be wondering how organ donations work, anyway. It’s a fairly weird thought; taking one person’s body bits and putting them into someone else. But it’s not actually that odd. Think of a body part like a piece of machinery, say a cog. If you take a cog and put it into a broken machine, it’ll work again. Maybe not perfectly, but well, and certainly well enough to keep the machine going. Think of donor organs like that cog- they’ll work almost the same as in their original owner. They might have to take medication to make it work perfectly, but these organs are life-saving. If it’s that simple, though, why don’t people like to donate their organs?

There are actually a lot of reasons that people don’t like the idea of donating, but a lot of them are based on unfounded fears and beliefs. A common fear you might hear is that once doctors hear you’re on the organ donor register, they won’t try hard to save you. This isn’t true however, and you needn’t worry about it! The transplant team and the medical doctors trying to save you are two different sets of people- the transplant surgeons aren’t even called until death has occurred, or is certain to occur. They’re certainly not hoping for you to die! Be logical about this- there’s no point letting one person die needlessly to save another.

Another accusation that I’ve heard- in the case of Steve Jobs, for example- is that famous or wealthy people are given organs over other people. This leads on to the question of why low-earning people should donate at all; or it would, if it was true. Recipients are never chosen based on their fame or money, but by much fairer means such as their time on the waiting list, their location and how urgently they need the organ. Ethnic minorities are also never discriminated against, and should be just as willing to donate as those who are not ethnic minorities- they’re just as likely to benefit, despite some misconceptions that they aren’t.

What I’ve also heard as a major reason for not donating is religion. People are often unclear on whether their religion allows organ donation, and would compulsively say no, “just in case”. The same applies to relatives in hospital, when asked for consent for donating the organs of their loved ones. However, most religions have no objection to organ donation at all, and even view it as a positive thing- a life-giving action. You don’t need your organs when you’re dead, but other people do. I don’t mean to bash anyone’s religion, but if it’s your God’s requirement that you can’t get into your heaven (or similar construct) if you donate your organs and tissues, then you need to have a good think about your faith. Any merciful, kind God would surely approve of any action which helps and saves other good people. Your body will be treated with the utmost respect when you donate, and won’t be mutilated, as many people fear, so you’ll still look like yourself if that’s something which worries you.

My advice then, would be to be prepared for the worst. Research organ donation, and put your name on the register. Discuss it with your family so you’re sure of what they want should the unfortunate circumstance of their death arise. If you’re religious, do some research; read your religious texts or speak to a spiritual teacher. If you decide to opt out, make sure you’ve considered all of the people you could help if you donated and ensure that this is definitely the path that you want to take. Even consider whether you would accept someone else’s organ or tissue if you needed it.

It really only takes a moment to register- I did it a few months ago. You can do it online, and a little organ donor card is sent to you in the mail soon after. If you’re a UK citizen, register here, at UK Transplant. If you’re from the US, you can register here. If you’re from another country and want to find out how to donate, just type “become an organ donor” into Google and you should find the links no problem. I hope this makes you all think about the people you could help by donating!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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1 Comment

  1. October 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm —

    I think Steve Jobs had his pancreas removed (Whipple procedure), but did actually get a liver transplant. He also lent his influence to get the liver transplant laws changed in California.


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