4 Organ Donor Myths

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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More than 118,000 people today are on the U.S. national organ transplant waiting list. Each day, about 22 people die while waiting for an organ transplant. Most people in the U.S. approve of organ donation, but only about half of people actually agree to allow the donation of a loved one's organs when asked to do so.

Most people would happily accept an organ from another individual if it could save their life or end their own suffering, yet many are reluctant to be donors. Why the discrepancy? The official U.S. Government web site for organ and tissue donation and transplantation (maintained by the Health Resources and Services Administration) explains that myths concerning organ donation often spark unfounded fears about organ donation.

Let's look at some of the myths about organ donation:

  1. "Doctors may not try as hard to save me if they know I am a donor." Absolutely untrue - After doctors have exhausted all possible means of saving a life, and death has either already occurred or is imminent, only then is the transplant team called in. Transplant doctors do not assist doctors in making decisions about treatment. Expressing your wishes to be an organ donor will never influence the quality or extent of your medical treatment.
  2. "Organ transplants are preferentially given to rich or famous people, or given preferentially to people of a specific race." Again, false. Donated organs are matched by blood and tissue typing, organ size, medical urgency, waiting time, and geographic location.
  3. "There are too many financial issues involved with organ donation." Incorrect - your family or estate will not be charged for any costs related to the donation. Likewise, organs are never sold. U.S. Federal law prohibits the purchasing or selling of organs.
  4. "Organ donation results in disfigurement of the body." This is false since organ removal is essentially a surgical procedure performed in an operating room. Just as with any surgery, all incisions are closed and repaired. It's still possible to have an open casket funeral if this is of concern to you.

If these or other fears have kept you from signing an organ donor card, take the time to review the information on the U.S. government Web site for organ and tissue donation (www.organdonor.gov). You can print out a donor card today from the Web site if you choose. Remember that even if you sign a donor card it is essential that your family know your wishes, since your family may be asked to sign a consent form in order for your donation to occur.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


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Reviewed on 3/31/2017

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