The New York Times recently asked “How Can Countries Encourage Organ Donation?” The column discussed several different approaches to the issue of organ donation, including opt-out systems in which all citizens are presumed to be organ donors unless they state otherwise, and talked about differing rates of organ donation in different countries, and why the differences are so radical.
The need for organs is a definite problem, and it intersects with a lot of the issues we talk about here. Some members of the disabled community need organ and tissue donations, or will need them. Others of us may be donors at some point. People in lower socioeconomic classes who may need transplants may lack access to the services they need to get onto the waiting list, or to the social and political power sometimes needed to get a transplant in time. Minority women tend to wait longer for matches.
In the United States alone, an estimated 18 people die each day waiting for organs.
There are a whole lot of issues to talk about when it comes to organ donation, but I wanted to briefly address something brought up in the New York Times piece. Israel has become the first nation to essentially enact a “give one, get one policy.” Citizens who register as organ donors will get “priority treatment” if they end up in need of an organ transplant. Citizens also get extra points if their family members are registered as donors.
Now, I’m not saying that any allocation for organs is flawless, and in fact I have some serious problems with the administration of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) in the United States. But it is my general belief that organs should be allocated to those who need them most, regardless of donor status, race, gender, socioeconomic class, religious beliefs, and so on. The idea of creating a ranked hierarchy is, in my opinion, an atrocious one.
Here’s what our Amanda had to say about the plan in Israel:
Which I’m sure will be just lovely for people who cannot agree to donate their organs (for what reasons, I’ll let you guess). If you encourage all healthy people to get in the front of the list, what happens to all the not-healthy people? It’s basically a way to make them even less likely to get the help they need… AND you get punished if your relatives aren’t perfectly healthy too??
No. I can’t see this as a good thing.
As someone who is ineligible to donate organs, tissue, and blood, I pretty much second this. I would very much like to register as an organ donor. I’ve been criticized in the past for not having a “donor” sticker on my driver’s license, which makes for some awkward conversations when I am trying to keep my disability status to myself, but that’s not why I wish I could be a donor. I wish I could be a donor because I like the idea of being able to help my fellow humans. And I would love to be able to donate blood on a regular basis, not least because I’m O- so my blood would be pretty much useful anywhere.
But I can’t.
Does this mean that I don’t deserve organ and tissue transplants or blood transfusions?
What about other people who cannot register as donors, for whatever reasons they may have?
This policy just shames and humiliates people. I’m sure that there are lots of Israelis in a situation similar to my own, who would like nothing more than to register as donors, but who cannot. There are lots of us all over the world. We elect not to register because there’s no point in registering when we will be rejected if a situation in which our organs could be used ever comes up; why waste anyone’s time by registering when we can’t actually give?
“There are no barriers to registering as a donor,” people are often told as an incentive to sign up. But there are actually are (medical, religious, ethical), and shaming people who cannot be donors is not really a good way to increase the rate of organ donation, if you ask me. Surely there’s a way to recognize the need for donors and to try and increase the number of donors which does not involve shaming people.