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Ethics and Morality

Be An Organ Donor

Should we change the rules so people need to "opt-out" of organ donation?

Organ transplants are medical miracles. Dozens of people have received face transplants after their own faces were damaged in fires, or attacks with poison and other injuries.

More than 40,000 corneas are transplanted each year in the United States. But many people need whole eyes, including soldiers who sustained wounds in combat. Surgeons say they are getting closer to that feat.

Yet even as surgical options advance, a practical problem persists: For years, there haven’t been enough donated organs of any kind to go around. According to U.S. government statistics, 116,077 Americans are waiting for an organ. About 20 Americans die on average each day for lack of one.

Only about half of Americans are signed up to donate organs at death and only a small percentage leave usable organs.

One solution: require people to “opt-out” of donation, meaning their organs would be assumed available when they die unless they had said otherwise. Twenty-five countries in Europe operate under this system. A 2012 study concluded that only about 10 percent of residents in opt-out countries do so.

Legislators in Connecticut, Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania have introduced opt-out bills, but so far without success.

When three Stanford social psychologists set out to understand the issue, they concluded that this was just another case of our tendency to stick to whatever is normal—the “status-quo.” In an opt-out country, the status quo is to donate organs upon death. In Austria, an opt-out country, people don’t see organ donation as a big deal—just normal. But in Germany, where you had to opt in, donation was considered to be a costly and highly moral act. The researchers concluded that if the United States switched to become an opt-out country, Americans would soon look at organ donation as Austrians do—as a minor matter—and we’d end up with more organs.

If you haven't signed up, please do. You can donate a heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and small intestines and save eight lives. Your cornea, skin, veins, heart valves, tendons and ligaments can also be transplanted.

If you’re healthy, you can become a “living donor,” by giving a kidney, or a part of the liver, lung, intestine, blood or bone marrow. One in four donors is not biologically related to the recipient

Don’t worry about your age or current medical history for a donation upon death—many conditions won’t rule out your organs.

Addressing the most common reasons people hesitate, Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that oversees the U.S. system, notes:

  • Being a registered donor has absolutely no impact on how hard doctors will work to save your life.”
  • You can have an open-casket funeral—the body is treated with “dignity” and “care.”
  • There is no cost to the family.
  • Some people think that celebrities and wealthy folks are favored for organs—but that’s not the case. Doctors weigh each case by the chance of success and likelihood of the recipient dying without a transplant.
  • All the major organized religions in the United States are in favor of organ and tissue donation.

This one choice could turn your death into hope and survival for others. One deceased donor can save or improve up to 50 lives. It could be the most charitable act of your life. Sign up here.

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