Organ Donations: Opt In or Opt Out?

Organ Donations are Vital to Others

Organ Donations are Vital to Others

Are you confused about organ donations? Don’t feel alone – each state and each country in the world has laws that dictate how and why organ donations can be done. While it may be a simple act for you to donate your organs on your driver’s license when you renew it in the U.S., the recipient may have already learned that obtaining that lung, heart or other body part that could save his or her life is not so easy.

As of February 2009, for example, 4,500 people sit waiting for organ transplants – 2,717 waiting for kidneys, 191 for livers and 54 for a pancreas in New Jersey alone. Most will die waiting. In 2007, 6,674 people passed away in that state as they awaited a lung, heart, kidney or liver transplant.

The reason behind the lack of organs is because in New Jersey and in the rest of the country, organ donation operates as an “opt-in” system. An individual is not considered an organ donor unless he or she explicitly declares a desire to be one, whether it be on a driver’s license or in a will (which often is not read until after the body is well past an ideal state for organ transplants). The individual’s autonomy to make decisions about if and how his body is used at death is paramount.

Other nations, recognizing the dearth of donor organs and the preventable nature of deaths awaiting transplant, have undertaken an active reconsideration of their policies. In January, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the strong possibility of the United Kingdom shifting to a plan of “presumed consent” (also known as “opt-out”) where an individual is an organ donor unless otherwise specified. He believes that many more lives will be saved if the UK adopts the same system as countries such as Spain and Austria.

But, there are two sides to the debate, based mainly on ethical standards. Opting in provides individuals with the autonomy to consent in the context of their own morals, values and any religious beliefs. An opting-out system imposes and implies that organ donation is the right thing to do and is expected as an altruistic act by all. Junior Health Minister Ben Bradshaw acknowledged that assumed consent was a “delicate issue” but argued: “Even in those countries like Spain that have presumed consent, organs are not ripped out of people without the families consenting to that.”

Do you have plans to donate your organs to someone who may need them when you die? If so, then you may want to learn more about how this procedure is done in your region. If not, then think about how you may save someone’s life with this simple act.

Learn more about organ donations at OrganDonor.gov.

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