If you’re thinking about becoming an organ donor, it’s important to weigh all the pros and cons before making the choice. Becoming a living donor or a donor after you die is a decision that you shouldn’t take lightly. Not only does your being a donor potentially impact you, but it can also impact your immediate family and even your closest friends. Learn how to become a donor, what it involves, and familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of organ donation.
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Pros of Becoming an Organ Donor
There are numerous benefits to becoming an organ donor, whether you decide to become a living donor or a donor after your death. Here are some of the things you can look forward to if you choose to sign up for the national organ donor registry.
1. Anyone can donate at any age
Many people assume that they can’t be an organ donor because they’re not the right age, in good enough health, or even have the right ethnic background to donate. However, that isn’t the case at all!
You can choose to become an organ donor at any age. If you’re under 18, you can sign up to become a living donor or a donor after death with the consent of a parent. For all other ages, you can choose to become a donor at any time.
People of all ages need organs, making your donation critical — no matter your age. Donors range from newborns all the way up to those in their 90s.
Worried about a health condition? There are very few reasons why your organs wouldn’t be accepted for donation.
Outside of active cancer or a systemic infection, your organs would likely be healthy enough to be used. Common health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes — reasons why some might think they’d become ineligible — are not reasons for rejection at all.
If religious beliefs cause you to question whether you should sign up, many religions do believe in the validity of being a donor. Religions that specifically support organ donation include most branches of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Living or deceased
Not only can you decide to become a donor at the point of your death, but you can also decide to become a living donor. While the majority of organs needed by patients can only be taken after someone dies, several organs can be donated by those still living including:
- Part of a liver
- Part of a lung
- Part of a pancreas
- Part of an intestine
- Some tissues
Since we have two kidneys and only need one to function, the whole organ can be removed from a living donor. Pieces of the liver, lung, pancreas, or intestine can be taken and the body will compensate for the missing piece.
2. You can save one life — or more
When you choose to be an organ donor, you’re not just impacting one person’s life. As a donor, you have the opportunity to save up to eight lives with your:
- Pair of lungs
Once each of these organs is removed, they can go to eight different people in desperate need. And that’s just the major organs. If you choose to donate tissue, eyes, and other parts, your donation can go even further.
3. Your death can be more meaningful
For many families, the tragic and untimely death of a loved one lacks meaning and feels senseless. Some would even say their death is “wasteful” as such a young life was wasted when they had so much life left to live.
By donating your organs, even tragic and untimely deaths don’t have to be meaningless. Though death is still tragic and loss deeply painful, many families of organ donors say that they were given hope when their loved one’s organs were given to someone in need. A seemingly meaningless death becomes something meaningful and allows a loved one’s legacy to live on through the life of the organ recipient.
4. You can further medical research
If you don’t want to be buried and you’re looking for alternatives to cremation, consider donating your body to science. When you do, your body might be used to help medical students train and become doctors.
Your body could also be used to provide study and research on diseases. Who knows? Your donation could be the reason for a major medical breakthrough that transforms the medical world.
5. You can help someone right now
As a living donor, you don’t have to wait until your death to donate. You can help someone in need right now.
You could be a match for a kidney for a close friend or family member, or give part of your liver, pancreas, lungs, or intestines to a complete stranger. By becoming a living donor, you can do something to change the world right now.
Cons of Becoming an Organ Donor
You can find numerous benefits to becoming an organ donor but there are some cons to think through as well. Here are several to consider before deciding what to choose.
1. It can lengthen the grieving process
When an organ donor passes away, the hospital keeps the deceased person on life support until recipient matches can be found for their organs. This is done to keep blood flowing through the body and the organs alive even though the person is legally and clinically deceased.
This can be difficult for family members who must wait until the organs have been taken for the body to be transported and prepared for burial. It lengthens the waiting process and can prolong grieving while the family waits for closure.
In some cases, keeping the person on life support can also provide a false sense of hope that a loved one will somehow get better. Once the organs are removed and the person is taken off of life support, it can feel like the family has to deal with death a second time.
2. You may not get to choose the recipient
If you’re a living donor, you might choose who to give your kidney to. If a family member or friend, for example, needs a kidney and you’re a match, you can volunteer to have your kidney go to that person.
When you pass away, your organs will go to the most eligible recipient on the waiting list. You won’t get to choose who receives your heart or liver. Some potential donors and their family members might find this aspect difficult to deal with.
Family members also may not get to meet the recipient or their families. If organ donation is chosen to provide a legacy, the family may be disappointed. Not all donors and recipients are able to meet each other.
3. Living donors can encounter health complications
As a living donor, you will undergo surgery to remove the organ or pieces of organs you plan to donate. As with any surgery, health complications can occur, from excessive bleeding during surgery to infection and scarring.
Though there is little long-term information with regard to health complications for living donors, some studies have shown that kidney donors may deal with long-term issues including high blood pressure. A small percentage end up needing dialysis or a transplant themselves.
Living liver donors are at a slightly greater risk for long-term health complications, including abdominal bleeding, intestinal problems such as blockages or tears, organ impairment or failure, and the need for a transplant.
4. Organ rejection could happen for recipients
Organ donation and the medications that help a recipient’s body accept the organ have gotten better and better over the years. Unfortunately, the reality still exists that a recipient’s body may reject the organ, despite anti-rejection medications. If this is the case, it can be hard on the donor’s family.
In the case where a donor’s family gets to know the recipient, it can be especially painful if, after several months, the transplanted organ fails or is rejected. For the families of donors, it can feel like they’re losing their loved one all over again, this time because the recipient hasn’t been helped permanently by the donated organ.
5. Families may not agree with the decision
Not all families accept the practice of organ donation and you may find that your family disagrees with your choice. Disagreements arise due to religious and personal preferences. The decision can cause some family members to become upset.
Should you wish to sign up for the national registry of organ donors and your family does not agree with your choice, it’s essential that you express your wishes in writing. In addition to placing the donor sticker on your driver’s license, file an advanced directive.
Once notarized, the advanced directive is a legally binding document that communicates to doctors and caregivers what you want to happen medically should you become uncommunicative or die. Have a copy placed in your permanent medical files and give copies to your immediate family members as well.
To avoid confusion and arguments at the time of your death, be sure that your funeral wishes are known by all close relatives and even close friends.
Giving Hope and Life
Organ donation is a powerful tool used to offer thousands of people the gift of hope and new life each year. If you don’t have any objections to signing up, you can become an organ donor and give people across America a second chance at life.
- “Benefits and Risks of Becoming a Living Donor.” Living Donation, American Transplant Foundation, 2020. americantransplantfoundation.org/about-transplant/living-donation/about-living-donation/#:~:text=Risks%20to%20the%20Donor,other%20organs%2C%20and%20even%20death
- “Organ Donation Statistics.” Organ Donor, U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation, 2020. organdonor.gov/statistics-stories/statistics.html
- “Making Your Last Wishes Known.” A to Z Guides, WebMD, 7 July 2000. webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/making-your-last-wishes-known#1