It is National Donate Life Month. This is an important month for advocacy and awareness about organ donation and transplantation. It makes me happy that we have a month dedicated to increasing organ donation but more needs to be done than designating a month as National Donate Life Month.
The United States is facing a public health crisis. Year after year, the demand for organ transplants rises while the organ supply remains critically low. There are currently 118,186 men, women, and children in need of a live-saving organ transplant. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant. In addition, another person is added to the waiting list for an organ transplant every ten minutes. If nothing changes, the waiting list will continue to grow and Americans will continue to die in wait of an organ transplant. There is a simple and effective way to combat our crisis, however. The solution lies in switching our current organ donation registration process into a presumed-consent system instead of our current opt-in system.
Presumed-consent, or opt-out consent policies make it the default option to have an individual’s organs donated posthumously. Someone would need to explicitly state that they do not want to donate their organs if they wanted to be excluded from the organ donation registry.
Why should we switch to an opt-out system?
Opt-out policies increase the number of registered organ donors. According to a medical article published in Medicine and Health Rhode Island by Ghazi Ahmad and Sadia Iftikhar, MD, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, and Sweden have consent rates of over 85%. These countries all have opt-out consent policies. Perhaps the most stark statistic is found in the comparison between Austria and Germany, two countries that are similar culturally as well as geologically. Germany, with an opt-in policy, has a consent rate of 12%. Austria, with an opt-out policy, has a consent rate of 99.98%.
A similar study conducted by Eric J. Johnson and Daniel Goldstein, published authors in ScienceMag, countries with an opt-in system have on average 42% of their population registered as organ donors while countries with an opt-out system have an average of 82% of their population registered as organ donors. Simply put, opt-out policies increase the amount of registered organ donors.
Opt-out policies increase the number of performed organ transplants. According to a research article published in BMC Medicine by Lee Shepard, Ronan E. O’Carrol, and Eamonn Fergurson, opt-out consent policies lead to a relative increase in the total number of livers and kidneys transplanted. Even though the number of living donations was reduced in countries with an opt-out policy, the number of organs donated posthumously still led to a higher amount of organs transplanted.
Americans overwhelmingly support organ donation. According to the article published by Ahmad and Iftikhar, 85% of Americans reported that they would donate their organs. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 95% of Americans support organ donation. With numbers like these, it is a surprise that the United States only has 51% of our population registered as organ donors, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Opt-in policies compounded with a lack of education about registering as an organ donor lead to confusion and misinformation. Many Americans falsely believe myths about what it means to become an organ donor. Some believe that doctors will not put the same effort into preserving your life. The truth is that the priority of doctors is to save your life if you are sick or injured. Donation is only considered after the death of an individual. Some believe that organ donation will alter the appearance of their body and make an open-casket funeral impossible. The truth is that all organs and tissues are recovered in a surgical manner and all incisions are closed and dressed. Donation will not disfigure the body. When asked to register as an organ donor, many Americans do not understand what it means and instead opt for the default position. By changing to an opt-out system, people are more likely to choose the default position, to become an organ donor.
All major religions support organ donation. A commonly cited reason to be against an opt-out system is the religious implication, however, all major religions in the U.S. support or encourage organ, eye, and tissue donation as an act of charity. The vast majority of religions have no qualm with organ donation. Information about the positions of different religions can be found at https://www.organdonor.gov/about/donors/religion.html
Opt-out policies still allow for individual choice in the important decision to become a donor. An opt-out policy is not a binding, universal contract that forces every person to donate their organs posthumously. An opt-out policy simply changes the default position to one in which consent is presumed for posthumous organ donation, something that most Americans already agree with according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Individuals in an opt-out system have the option to unregister from the organ donor registry if they make the choice to. They simply have to make it explicitly known that they wish to not be an organ donor.
If you agree with all of this, please, sign my petition here.
Have a wonderful day,