A recent online survey of over 5,000 America adults found that misconceptions about the organ donation process are the most likely reasons for
the gap between the number of people who would like to be donors and the number who actually register.
The main survey results are revealed in the annual report of the advocacy group Donate Life America. The report is titled "National Donor Designation Report Card, April 2009" and is the second annual report to detail the continued efforts to increase donor designations across America. The survey was conducted by Survey Sampling International for Donate Life America in partnership with Astellas Pharma US, Inc.
Most states in the US now have a straightforward scheme for licensed vehicle drivers to sign up to be organ donors: it only requires a signature and can be done when you apply for or renew your licence.
However, so far only 38 per cent of licensed drivers have signed up, and the survey suggests the reason could be fears and misconceptions about the organ donation process.
The survey showed that:
- 51 per cent of Americans wish to donate some or all of their organs and tissue.
- Another 26 per cent are not sure.
- 58 per cent mistakenly believe that it is possible for a person to recover from brain death.
- 51 per cent incorrectly believe doctors may not try as hard to save a life, or aren't convinced they will, when they know the patient is an organ donor.
- 44 per cent wrongly think that in the US there is a black market where people can buy and sell transplant organs and tissue.
- 23 per cent of people who reported being undecided, reluctant, or unwilling to donate their organs and tissue are not sure they would be accepted as donors. (The report said here that in reality, age and health status do not stop people from being potential donors because screening occurs before the organs are recovered for transplant).
There are also faces behind the numbers, and the report describes inspiring stories of donors and recipients, and the not so fortunate patient who died while waiting for an organ to be available.
Lorri was a 35 year old mother who suffered a brain aneurism and was declared brain dead but she had registered as a donor and "thanks to her compassionate gift seven people received lifesaving organ transplants, and countless more received the gifts of healing and renewal through tissue transplants". The report describes her decision as giving peace to her family.
Seven year old Mikey can now do almost anything other boys his age can do, like ride his bike, roller skate and swim, thanks to a life saving liver transplant. But sadly baby Ryan, who was born with a dangerously enlarged heart, died at seven months while waiting for a new heart to become available.
Sara Pace Jones, who is chairwoman of Donate Life, told the New York Times that erroneous beliefs about organ donation could be a result of how it is shown on television dramas. She said some TV shows don't have time in an hour to tell the whole story, and this can lead to inaccurate portrayals of how donation works.
"Many times I have seen a story unfold where the same physician treats the patient when admitted to the hospital, takes them to surgery, pronounces the patient dead, accesses the transplant list and does the organ recovery and transplant. But this is not how the donation process happens," said Pace Jones.
But she stressed that the "doctor who is trying to save the life of the injured patient is not the same doctor who recovers organs for transplantation".
Many people also don't realize that the organizations that check the donor and patient registeries and co-ordinate the donations are separate from the hospitals that treat the recipients, she added.
Pace Jones said that people are reassured when they realize that "everything will be done to save their lives after an accident", and when they understand that "the doctors who treat them have nothing to do with the transplantation process".
April is National Donate Life Month and Donate Life America has launched a page on Facebook to make it easier for Americans to register as donors.
Sources: Donate Life America, New York Times.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD