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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Common myths about organ donation, transplantationcomment (0)

April 19, 2012

By Carrie Brown McWhorter


Across the United States, more than 110,000 individuals are waiting for an organ transplant. In Alabama alone, more than 3,500 people are registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit organization that operates the federally approved Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. While they wait, approximately 23,000 Alabamians die in Alabama hospitals each year. Last year, only 110 of those deaths resulted in organ donations.  

So why do so many potential donors fail to make a donation decision? Misinformation is one major reason, said Ann Rayburn, senior manager of professional education for the Alabama Organ Center (AOC). 

Myth: All medical issues and behavioral choices equate to donor ineligibility

Many people mistakenly believe that medical issues or behavioral choices make them ineligible to donate organs. While infectious diseases and metastatic cancers automatically disqualify an individual from donating, other conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, a history of smoking or even age, do not.

“Most people do not realize that different organs have different longevity,” said Derek DuBay, assistant professor of surgery in the division of transplantation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a deacon at Liberty Park Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, in Birmingham Baptist Association. “A liver, for example, is an organ that can go on forever and the same is often true for tissue and bone.”

Myth: Emergency personnel will not try to save an injured organ donor

Another prevailing myth regarding organ donation is the fear that emergency personnel will not try to save an injured organ donor. Nothing could be further from the truth, Rayburn said.

“If you are in an accident, the number one priority is to save your life,” she said. “Donation can only be considered after all life-saving efforts are exhausted.”

In fact, most organ donors today fall victim to natural causes rather than accidents, DuBay said. 

Prior to air bags and seat belts, most organ donors were victims of automobile accidents. Today, however, the most common donor is a middle-aged patient who has had a stroke or other brain trauma that leads to brain swelling and eventually to brain death, he said.

Myth: Religion prohibits organ donation

DuBay said sometimes people mistakenly believe that their religion prohibits organ donation or feel that the body has to be whole to go on to the afterlife. However, no major religion prohibits organ donation, DuBay said, and most religions have a positive stance toward donation, considering it an act of charity (see story, page 8). 

Myth: Mutilation of body during recovery process

DuBay said some people also fear their bodies will be mutilated during the recovery process, which is another myth. Organ recovery is a surgical procedure, and just like other surgeries, physicians are respectful of the patient’s body. An open casket funeral is still possible after organ donation, and the donor’s family does not incur any additional costs for organ recovery.

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