10 Myths about Organ Donation

10 Myths about Organ Donation   by Hal Stevens

in Family / Genealogy    (submitted 2009-05-27)

Organ Donation is a very touchy subject. As we see, all things related to the medical or mortuary fields, a lot of people are under general misconceptions having heard rumors or urban legends which they hold to be true.

If you've delayed your decision to be a donor because of possibly inaccurate information, here are answers to some common organ donation myths and concerns.


1. If I agree to donate my organs, the attending physician or emergency room staff won't try to save my life. They'll remove my organs as soon as possible to save somebody else.

{Reality: When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life -- not somebody else's.}

2. What if I'm not actually dead when they sign my death certificate? It'll be too late for me if they've taken my organs for transplantation. I might have otherwise recovered.

{Reality: A physician is not going to declare a person dead without first going through the necessary steps to make sure they're really dead.}

3. Organ donation is against my religion.

{Reality: Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most religions.

This includes Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and most branches of Judaism. If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on donation, ask a member of your clergy.}

4. People under eighteen years of age are too young to make this decision.

{Reality: That's true, in a legal sense. But the minor's parents can authorize this decision. If you are under eighteen, you can express to your parents your wish to donate, and your parents can give their consent knowing that it's what you wanted. Children, too, are in need of organ transplants, and they usually need organs smaller than those an adult can provide.}

5. I want or my loved one wants to have an open-casket funeral. That can't happen if his or her organs or tissues have been donated.

{Reality: Organ and tissue donation doesn't interfere with having an open-casket funeral. The donor's body is clothed for burial, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation. For eye donation, an artificial eye is inserted, the lids are closed and set during embalming, and no one can tell any difference. For bone donation, a rod is inserted where bone is removed. With skin donation, a very thin layer of skin similar to a sunburn peel is taken from the donor's back. Because the donor is clothed and lying on his or her back in the casket, no one can see any difference.}

6. Elderly people are not candidates for organ donation.

{Reality: That's false. There's no defined age limit for donating organs.

Organs have been successfully transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s. The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. Don't disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.}

7. I'm in poor health or my eyesight is weak. Nobody would want my organs or tissues.

{Reality: Overall, that's not true. Very few medical conditions automatically prevent you from donating organs. The decision to use an organ is based on strict medical criteria. It may turn out that certain organs are not suitable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Don't automatically count out donation if it's something you want to do. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs are suitable for transplantation.}

8. I hear you can't donate to someone unless you're a close family member.

{Reality: Whether it's a distant family member, friend or complete stranger, you can donate an organ through as long as certain qualifications are a match.

9. The rich and powerful always seem to move to the front of the line when they need a donor organ. There's no way to ensure that my organs will go to those who've waited the longest or are the neediest.

{Reality: The rich and famous aren't given priority when it comes to allocating organs. It may seem that way because of the amount of publicity generated when celebrities receive a transplant, but they are treated no differently from anyone else. In fact, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the organization responsible for maintaining the national organ transplant network, subjects all celebrity transplants to an internal audit to make sure the organ allocation was appropriate.}

10. My family will be charged if I donate my organs.

{Reality: The organ donor's family is never charged for donating. The family is charged for the cost of the medical care you received to save your life, and those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Costs for organ removal go to the transplant recipient.}

As I have already stated in a previous article, enough people to populate a small city -- nearly 100,000 -- are on the U.S. organ transplant waiting list at the present time. On an average day, about 77 people receive organ transplants. But thousands more never get the call from their transplant center to tell them that they've found a suitable donor organ and a new chance at life.