Why Not Just Wait for a Deceased Donor? Here’s Why

According to polls, about 90% of Americans say they favor organ donation, but only about 60% are registered donors.

Just curious: what percentage of people in the United States would you guess die in such a way that traditional organ donation is possible? A third? A fifth? Not even close. The answer is “less than 1%”: typically in a hospital following an accident. So, no, not at home in their beds, not on impact in a car crash, often not even after a slow death from myriad diseases.

Traditional organ donation 101: When a dying person has been determined to be brain dead—no activity, no chance of survival—but the heart is still beating, blood is flowing to their internal organs. Once the organ has been removed from the blood supply, the sooner it’s placed in the recipient’s body, the better. With luck it’s off the blood supply for only a few minutes or hours. When it’s necessary to put it on an airplane, that interruption may last several hours—technically, 24 to 36 hours is acceptable, but the sooner it can be hooked up to the recipient’s veins, the better.

So most of the 100,000 people on the national waiting lists may languish several years (5 to 10 is not uncommon) before they receive a lifesaving kidney, and thousands don’t get one in time. Clearly we need more people to be registered donors.

So, absolutely, register to be an organ and tissue donor after you die and tell your family of your desire (and then urge them to do the same). But even if everyone complied, we’d still have a kidney shortage because of that 99% that can’t be used in traditional donation.

That’s where live donation comes in. Not only does it add to the pool and shorten the wait, it even improves the outcome for most transplant recipients. And we need to remove obstacles for potential donors so that more people will consider being living donors. Tell your representatives–in your state and nationally–to support the Living Donor Protection Act and to increase funds for financial assistance for living donors and for early detection of chronic kidney disease.

An important health crisis as urgent and daunting as an organ shortage deserves more attention, more funding, and a meaningful commitment to finding creative solutions.

For related posts, resources, and information on my new book, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation, be sure to explore the rest of my website.