By Noah Varghese and Simi Juriasingani
Over the past few decades, awareness about the impact of organ donation and transplantation has risen thanks to the media and advancements in transplantation research. However, certain pervasive misconceptions about organ donation still persist and, in this piece, we want to shed light on six myths that are brought up frequently.
Myth 1: I have a pre-existing medical condition, so I can’t be a donor.
The transplant team will determine at an individual’s time of death whether donation is possible. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs and/or tissues. In fact, there is no age restriction or preference when it comes to organ donation. There are only a few illnesses that are known to interfere with organ donation, and those are usually very specific to certain organs, which means almost everyone is eligible to donate organs in some capacity. Additionally, each potential donor is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and the transplant only takes place when it is deemed safe for both the donor and recipient. That is why it is important to consult with your doctor to determine if you are eligible for being a donor. If you have an illness and want to donate, don’t be discouraged and presume you are ineligible for organ donation.
Myth 2: If they see I’m a donor at the hospital, they won’t try to save my life.
In case of an emergency, saving your life is going to be your medical team’s top priority, regardless of whether you are an organ donor or not. Talks regarding organ donation are only started if there are no further therapeutic options. Therefore, when signing up to be a donor, you can be confident in the fact that you will receive the care that every patient deserves.
Myth 3: Rich and/or famous people on the waiting list receive priority for organ transplants.
This is completely untrue. Patients in need of transplants are entered into a national algorithm that is unbiased, especially with regards to socioeconomic status. In fact, the factors used to determine matching including blood type, time spent waiting, and how ill the patient is. This is the case in both Canada and the U.S. and there are strict policies that regulate policies on how donors and recipients should be matched. The only avenue for a patient to receive an organ without being at the top of the algorithm is if they receive a voluntary organ donation from a family member or friend. There are strict policies in place to ensure that there is no coercion or monetary gain at play when someone agrees to donate a non-essential organ voluntarily. Additionally, in many areas they require the donor to have a significant relationship with the recipient to allow a living donor transplant.
Myth 4: If I’m in a coma, they could take my organs.
Another common misconception is the belief that being in coma is synonymous with being brain dead, which is simply not the case. The most important difference is being you can recover from a coma, but you can’t recover from brain death. Therefore, if a potential donor is in a coma, hospital staff will treat the patient like everybody else and will prioritize in the patient’s recovery. Only after the patient is declared brain dead will the hospital staff focus on preserving the organs if the patient is a registered donor and/or their family has agreed to the donation.
Myth 5: If I’m an organ donor, I can’t donate my body to science for research.
As an organ donor, you don’t have a say in who receives your organs after you pass away. However, you can still choose to donate your body to science after your organs are procured for transplants or in the event that your organs are deemed unsuitable for transplants. Organ procurement will always be the top priority because transplants can save lives, but every attempt will be made to find a research institution if you have indicated your desire for your body to be donated to science for research.
Myth: An open-casket funeral isn’t an option for people who have donated organs.
Organ donation after brain or cardiac death will not affect the option of having an open-casket funeral. During and after the organ procurement, the donor’s body will be treated with great care to ensure that they are presentable for an open-casket funeral. In most instances, the face will be untouched and superficial scars from organ procurement will be hidden by clothing.
With the ever-increasing need for various types of transplants, it is imperative that we all consider registering to become organ donors. Misinformation can severely impact organ donor registration rates within certain demographics. Thus, debunking myths is just as important as raising awareness about the impact of organ donation. The next time you hear someone mention one of these misconceptions and you are in a position to step in as an advocate, consider talking to them and referring them to sources that provide accurate information.