One More Organ Donor

Yesterday was a first for me. During a lecture, I briefly discussed the sad state of organ donation, and how altruism alone cannot satisfy the demand for organs. Afterward, I sat down to sign some books. A woman approached and, after getting her book signed, put something else in front of me for a signature: her driver’s license. She had decided that she wanted to sign up as an organ donor, and asked me to be one of her signing witnesses. Her name is Jackie Stanley. I have to say, it was very moving. The only problem is that someone with Jackie’s characteristics — caring, foresight, etc. — is probably less likely to get in a fatal car crash than someone with the opposite traits (I hope so, at least).

DESCRIPTION

Mary

I gave a kidney to a friend of mine back in 2001. If I didn't need the other one, I'd love to do it again! It was like getting hit by a truck, but it really felt good. You don't often get a chance to help somebody like that. Someday they'll be growing kidneys in petri dishes--and we won't have the opportunity to put our lives on the line for the people we love. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Eileen M. Wyatt

I'm not sure how having caring and foresight would prevent other drivers from crashing into the lovely lady who was inspired to become an organ donor.

Has anyone done a study of whether opt-out substantially increases organ supply? The idea seems sound on the face of it, but presumably part of the point of Freakonomics is to check the assumption against the data.

Candace Bell

@ JB

Larry Hagman has only received 1 liver. He is now a HUGE advocate for organ donation. He attends the Transplant games every year and no longer drinks. Granted he destroyed his own liver, but everyone deserves a second chance. He is making a difference with the chance he's been given AND it is for the good of others.

~Candy

Howard Tayler

Jimbino wrote: Donating your organs is one of the stupidest things I've heard of since, by doing so, you are depriving your family and your heirs of part of their patrimony.

If your organs are part of your estate, and you're in average financial straits, odds are they're the most valuable part of the estate by at least one or two orders of magnitude.

If your heirs are allowed to sell those organs, you have given them ample motive for murder. Sure, not everybody will off their mother for her ticker, but not everybody offs their rich uncle either. Only a very few people do. And with so few rich uncles out there it's hardly commonplace.

But once organs become potentially liquid assets, EVERYBODY will have a rich uncle...

mahir

JB, your assumption that muslims might opt out of organ donation might be misplaced. See this link which discusses organ donation in Islam - http://www.uktransplant.org.uk/ukt/how_to_become_a_donor/religious_perspectives/leaflets/islam_and_organ_donation.jsp

John

Thanks for the reminder I just checked the boxes on my license. 2 more kidneys (slightly used) and a few more surplus organs could be in circulation sometime over the next few years. I will do my best to prolong my use of them.

P.S. I live in Ireland, Guinness just stopped giving free bottles of stout to blood donors immediately after donating. Trust me, a bottle of beer after loosing a pint of blood was never a good idea!

http://www.herald.ie/national-news/guinness-off-for-donors-2106933.html

jimbino

Mari wrote: The difference between leaving your organs and leaving your house to your heirs is that your heirs will likely not be able to use them at that time, and organs can't be kept untill they need them. Furthermore, your heirs could sell a house, but for obvious reasons, they are not allowed to sell your organs.

There are all kinds of things folks inherit that they can't personally use, like a going business. All these things have a market on eBay and Craigslist. So would organs, if it weren't for the religious doodoo gooders. Educate yourself at http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2006/06/the_economics_o_4.html

Howard Tayler wrote: If your heirs are allowed to sell those organs, you have given them ample motive for murder.

First, this is an argument for treating organs no differently from other valuable assets. Second, a person with valuable assets can specify his heirs and keep his will secret.

In the meantime, our policies are hurting widows and orphans who could have housing, food on the table and an education if allowed to sell the organs of the dad who was killed in a motorcycle accident. Stupid.

Read more...

Dave Undis

According to a new survey by Donate Life America 43 percent of people are undecided, reluctant or do not wish to have their organs and tissue donated after their deaths. Is this because Americans don't know there is an organ shortage? No. The survey also reports that 78 percent realize there are more people who need organ transplants in the U.S. than the number of donated organs available.

Meanwhile, the number of people who need transplants keeps growing. As of April 1, 2010, there were over 106,700 people on the national transplant waiting list. More than half of these people will die before they get a transplant, while Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

Just about every single one of the 43% of Americans who aren't willing to register as organ donors would accept an organ transplant if they needed one to live. As long as we let non-donors jump to the front of the waiting list when they need transplants we'll always have an organ shortage.

There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- allocate donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs. UNOS, which manages the national organ allocation system, has the power to make this simple policy change. No legislative action is required.

Americans who want to donate their organs to other registered organ donors don't have to wait for UNOS to act. They can join LifeSharers, a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

Giving organs first to organ donors will save more lives by convincing more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren't willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

Read more...

Ben

@Keith-

What if you're wrong?

JB

Mahir: Thanks for the info; I stand corrected. That link does make it clear that organ donation is not haram.

Candy: You said everyone desesrves a second chance. But what if that second chance comes at the expense of someone else? Did my wife's father not deserve a second chance? He didn't get one--and unlike Larry Hagman, he did nothing to bring on his condition. (Congenital hepatitis is common among Asian immigrants, for some reason.)

The shortage means that we have a moral obligation to prioritize organs according to who is most in need AND who is most deserving. Not an easy burden, but it's one we as a society need to bear.

I definitely don't want my organs to go to some heroin addict

Meanwhile, those with enough money to travel to regions of the country where they can get to the top of the list more quickly do just that. That's the way the US system is set up; if you need a liver and you're in California, then you can sign up to get one in Wyoming, so long as you can fly there the minute one becomes available.

This means the wealthy person has a better chance at an organ than a poor person has--even if the wealthy person made choices he knew were putting his organs at risk.

Read more...

Andrew

Really surprised that all it takes to be an organ donor is a witness signature on the back of the license? What state is that?

I'm 30 and have been an organ donor since as long as I was legally allowed to be one (18, probably). It always seemed selfish for me not to opt-in - what good would they be to me anyway? Also, as much I dislike the process, I give blood every couple months, again, because it seems selfish for me not to. Admittedly I donate often because my office hosts a blood drive frequently... I didn't seek out a place to donate blood when I didn't work here, so it's a convenience thing.

And both states where I've been issued driver's licenses (MA & VA) have always printed a little heart icon directly onto the license after I signed the paperwork at the DMV, so there's no way for a signature to get rubbed off, or a sticker to become un-stuck.

Jessica

I am an organ donor and have been since I first got a licence, but I also realize that part of the issue with getting people to opt-in is the fear, however baseless, that once on life support a doctor will "let them die" in order to harvest their organs.

JEP

Mr. Dubner:

As long as states have not made being an organ donor an opt out category, you should start giving more moving lectures to Sophomores and Juniors in high school, who are likely to be impulsive and non-cautious drivers, thereby increasing the pool of people more likely to end up being in the position to actually donate organs. You inspired one woman, now go inspire some kids with healthy organs.

Uthor

Don't worry, I drive fast, ride a motorcycle, and am an organ donor. Chances are, I'll make up for the unlikelyhood of Jackie getting into an accident.

Cassandra

Mari wrote: The difference between leaving your organs and leaving your house to your heirs is that your heirs will likely not be able to use them at that time, and organs can't be kept untill they need them. Furthermore, your heirs could sell a house, but for obvious reasons, they are not allowed to sell your organs.
There are all kinds of things folks inherit that they can't personally use, like a going business. All these things have a market on eBay and Craigslist. So would organs, if it weren't for the religious doodoo gooders. Educate yourself at http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2006/06/the_economics_o_4.html
Howard Tayler wrote: If your heirs are allowed to sell those organs, you have given them ample motive for murder.

First, this is an argument for treating organs no differently from other valuable assets. Second, a person with valuable assets can specify his heirs and keep his will secret.

In the meantime, our policies are hurting widows and orphans who could have housing, food on the table and an education if allowed to sell the organs of the dad who was killed in a motorcycle accident. Stupid.

Read more...

anita

Slippery slope--Demand will always exceed supply multifold so there is increasing pressure on organ donation being an 'unconditional gift of life'.
But if we tamper with the 'unconditional' ethic of donation, it's just a short step to looking at clinical priority of the recipients.
Exclude alcoholics, druggies and smokers? why not criminals?
If donors get to choose who they want to donate their organs to - they can start hitting the human rights list based on bigotry.

anita

Even With presumed consent, doctors are reluctant to whip bodies away from grieving families in intensive care to harvest organs- remember kidneys only have 4 hour timeframe.

This happened in Singapore a few years back- trust the media to sensationalise and headline "Body Snatchers"- and what do you think happened to the organ donation rate then?

rel

When I lived in Oklahoma, the donor rate was surprisingly high, given the conservative nature of the populace. Then DHS decided that donated organs had to be distributed on the basis of need nation-wide, rather than state-wide. People took umbrage that (1) organs were going to states with much lower donor rates, and (2) our transplant "industry" was eviscerated in favor of major medical centers on the coasts. Donor rates plummeted in response.

Ang Ung

Obviously, Dubner has not heard "good people die young". It is appropriate to be an organ donor, anyway.

Annie

"When I lived in Oklahoma, the donor rate was surprisingly high, given the conservative nature of the populace."

rotfl. What exactly is that supposed to mean? It's proven that onservatives are actually more generous than liberals.

As for automatic opt-in, that's unconstitutional. The government absolutely has no right to automatically enroll people in whatever program they deem necessary. That's a very dangerous policy to promote.