7 Myths About Organ Donation

Healthy Living

February 11, 2021

While you might associate February 14th with chocolates and paper hearts, Valentine’s Day isn’t the only special event on this date. It’s also National Donor Day, a time set aside to recognize the contributions of organ and tissue donors.

This day is dedicated to raising awareness of the donation process. 

Unfortunately, myths and misunderstandings about organ donation can keep people from becoming donors. Learning the facts may help you become more comfortable with the idea of donating life to a person in need.

As you celebrate the upcoming day of sweetness and romance, think about how a real heart can impact the life of someone who needs one. It’s a valuable opportunity to consider how you could one day give the ultimate gift of love and life to a friend, a family member or even a stranger. 

But first, let’s clear up some common myths about organ donation.

Myth #1: Only a few organs can be donated.

National Donor Day highlights a wide variety of donation types.

Transplantable organs include the heart, intestines, kidneys, liver, lungs and pancreas. In fact, according to Donate Life America, up to eight recipients could benefit from your organs.

Tissue donation is vital as well. Heart valves, corneas and joint tendons are just a few of the types of tissue that can be given to a person in need. You can also donate skin, bones and veins. 

As a tissue donor, your gifts could benefit up to 75 recipients, and your corneas could give two beneficiaries back their sight.

Myth #2: My age or health prevent me from being a donor.

There’s no upper age cutoff for being able to give your organs. Around a third of all deceased donations come from people aged 50 or older.

If you’re willing to donate, a transplant team will evaluate the state of your organs when you pass and determine which are suitable for transferring to another person.

The same principle applies to your medical history. 

Even if your health status prevents you from giving blood, transplant experts might determine that some of your organs and tissues are usable.

Just as there’s no upper age limit for donation, there’s no age threshold, either. 

A child’s passing is tragic, but it can also be the opportunity to save another child’s life. Pediatric patients do best when they receive transplants from donors who are close in age.

Around 2,000 young people are currently waiting for organ donations, and approximately 500 of them are younger than 5 years old.

Myth #3: I can’t donate while I’m still alive.

You don’t have to wait to save someone else’s life. Living donors can share their kidneys or livers with people in need. Kidney donation is especially important because around 82% of people on the transplant list are waiting for this vital organ.

Actually, recipients who get an organ from a living donor often have the best outcomes. They may receive their transplant sooner, and the organ may last longer than a deceased donation would.

You can make your living donation available to anyone in need or direct it to a specific person if you know someone who needs it.

Of course, because strict match criteria must be met, you might not be able to give your kidney to a loved one, no matter how much you want to help. 

If you don’t qualify to make a direct donation to your friend or family member, you might be able to choose paired donation instead. In that arrangement, you’ll donate to someone else’s loved one, and they’ll donate to yours — a literal gift that keeps on giving.

Myth #4: Registering to be a donor is enough.

If you want to be an organ donor after your death, join your state’s registry. Doing so is a clear way to communicate your wishes to the people who will make those decisions after you’re gone.

States run their own registry systems, but you can typically sign up with the motor vehicle department or online. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration offers an online directory with the sign-up process for each state.

Just joining your state registry might not be enough, though. 

Transplant experts also strongly advise that people communicate their wishes to their family members.

If your loved ones aren’t aware that you intend to be a donor, they might object once you’re gone. In the midst of their shock and grief, it may be difficult for them to process your wishes. Even if you’re a registered donor, doctors may opt not to transfer your organs without your family’s consent.

Having the conversation ahead of time increases the likelihood that your wishes will be carried out when the time comes.

Myth #5: Organ donation could violate my beliefs.

In most cases, religious leaders encourage organ donation or consider it a matter of personal conscience.

Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and multiple other Christian denominations view organ donation as a charitable act and an honorable way to show love to fellow humans. 

Judaism and Islam are other examples of religions that encourage practitioners to register as organ donors.

If you’re concerned about how organ donation and your religious beliefs might intersect, talk to your faith leader about it. You may be surprised to learn that your church or organization sees organ donation as a meaningful way to put your faith into practice. In any case, don’t rule it out until you know for sure.

Giving organs or tissues also won’t interfere with your funeral plans. Transplant experts will be respectful of your body, and you can still have an open-casket service or be buried according to your wishes.

Myth #6: Being an organ donor might jeopardize my life in an emergency.

Many people worry that, in an emergency situation, doctors would prefer to prepare organs for donation than to try all life-saving measures. That’s not the case.

When you’re in the emergency room or on the operating table, your life is the priority. 

Organ donation is only brought into consideration when it’s clear that doctors have done everything they can for you.

Keep in mind that the doctors who will be trying to save your life aren’t the same ones who will take care of the donation process. When it comes time for that, transplant specialists will be called in to prepare your tissues and organs for transfer in a way that honors and respects you and the gift that you’re making.

Myth #7: There are plenty of donors already.

More than 110,000 people in the U.S. are waiting to receive organs or tissues. Each year, around 8,000 people die because they didn’t receive donations in time. That comes to just under 22 deaths every day.

The need for donor organs and tissues is particularly critical among minority populations. For example, approximately one third of people waiting for a kidney are Black. But only around 16% of deceased organ donors are Black.

A better match can often be made when the donor and the recipient are of a similar racial or ethnic background. By becoming a donor, you could contribute to the well-being of others who share your heritage.

No matter your background, your organs and tissues can make a lifesaving difference. This Valentine’s Day, consider making the ultimate gift of love by registering as an organ donor and sharing your wishes with your family members.