Should You Check that Organ Donor Box?

April 4, 2015 8:41 pm0 commentsViews: 86
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c35C9FvqmW3081AA.medLike most people, I believe deeply in the value of organ donation—in its power to heal and save lives and in its power to help the grieving find meaning and comfort in their loss. Still, my short answer is “no, don’t check the organ donor box.”

Most of us are ill informed as to what we are agreeing to when we say yes to organ donation on our driver’s license or hospital forms. Yes, many families have given and received the ultimate gift, but you or your family can save those same lives while keeping some control over the handling and treatment of the patient and his or her body.

In the quest to save lives, medical practitioners sometimes forget that the person with the first right to any organ is the person who was born with it. This may sound melodramatic, but giving up ownership of your body parts can make a tragic situation even more painful for your loved ones. If the box is checked, no one’s consent is needed to begin the process.

The medical circumstances that define brain death and when organs may be harvested are not as clear cut as you might like or assume; and “harvested” is a telling word. Your heart will be pumping, your lungs breathing; you may even twitch in reaction to the surgery. Further, in a blanket donation all of your body parts may be used—for transplants, but also for research, leaving little or no remains for a funeral.

Making your wishes known to your family is key, and having a living will is helpful. This can ease the burden on loved ones when they face a very difficult decision, and can allow them some control to demand information and set limits. Do you, or they, want to fully donate your body for uses beyond life saving transplants, or do you want only vital organs used? Is it important to you or them that your body can be buried or cremated in a ceremony?

While our own wishes should be paramount in so important a choice, it makes sense to think about who will be grieving. Will your husband, wife, child, parent or sibling need a bit more time or certainty before letting you go?

Not checking the box gives those you leave behind the right to say “I want another test done; I want more information; I need another day to accept this.” Lives can still be saved.