Pros and Cons of Being an Organ Donor

The obvious pro of being an organ donor is that your death can help others live.  I have no problem with this and believe it is a good thing.  I myself would be willing to donate my organs upon my death, but having contracted hepatitis A from a co-worker over thirty years ago means I cannot donate organs or blood.

Many years ago, our state started putting an organ donor box on everyone’s driver’s license.  If the box was checked, any emergency personnel tending to someone that died or was near death would know that you wished to donate your organs.  Everyone I knew thought that this was a great idea. Or should I say almost everyone.

Before I contracted the hepatitis A, a physician I knew shocked me when he told me to never check the organ donor box.  He explained that some doctors are so geared to organ harvesting and donations that they may not always do everything in their power to save someone that could possibly be saved.  There may be a hasty tendency to prematurely declare someone dead just so they can get the organs while they are still fresh.  I remember asking how often that occurs and he said not too often, but would I want to be one of those few.  After thinking about it for a bit, I decided the next time I renewed my driver’s license, I would leave the organ donor box unchecked, but made sure my wife and family knew that I had no problems yielding up my organs once I was really dead.

All of this was brought to mind when I read the account of Stephen Thorpe from Leicester, England.

When Stephen was seventeen, he was involved in a car crash that killed the driver who was a friend of his.  A team of four doctors worked on Stephen who was severely injured and placed him into a medically induced coma.  Once in the coma, the four doctors all told Stephen’s dad that his son would never recover from his injuries and that for all intent and purpose he was dead.  They immediately asked permission to harvest Stephen’s organs for transplants into others.

Not wanting to give up on his son, Stephen’s father brought in a neurologist and a general practitioner to examine the teenager.  Both of these doctors determined that Stephen still had brain wave activity and that he was not brain dead.  With the father’s consent, they brought Stephen out of the induced coma and began aggressively treating him.  Five weeks later, Stephen had nearly recovered from all of his injuries and left the hospital.  Today, Stephen is twenty-one years old and is attending college where he is studying accounting.

According to LifeSiteNews.com, Stephen Thorpe’s case is not as isolated as you may want to believe.  Their site lists a number of cases where doctors have declared someone to be brain dead and wanting to harvest their organs only to have the patient recover partially or fully and continue living.  You can read one after another by visiting their site.

This raises the issue of what exactly does ‘brain death’ mean medically, not politically?

For centuries, a person was considered to be dead when no heart beat could be felt and no respiration could be detected.  Then medical science made a huge leap in the 1960s when they started transplanting organs from a dead person into someone in dire need of one.  The medical field needed some way to define a person to be dead, so they keyed on the presence of brain wave activity that could be detected on a monitor.  In 1968, the term ‘brain death’ was formally introduced and has been used ever since.

Ironically, there has been very little research into brain death nor has there been any industry wide standard to define it.  One doctor who serves as medical advisor for LifeSiteNews, Dr John Shea, says that it is not uncommon for someone to be declared brain dead and still have some brain function.  Shea says that the monitoring used to determine brain death only,

“Test for the absence of some specific brain reflexes. Functions of the brain that are not considered are temperature control, blood pressure, cardiac rate and salt and water balance. When a patient is declared brain dead, these functions are not only still present, but also frequently active.”

If you have a loved one that is declared brain dead, insist that a more comprehensive brain test be conducted before you let the vultures in to scavenge up the desired organs.  If the attending doctors refuse or say they do not have the equipment, then I would call a neurologist or some other doctor to get a second opinion.

Again, please note that I am not against being an organ donor, but the next time you renew your driver’s license you may want to think twice before checking the organ donor box.  If you do want to be an organ donor, make sure you let your family and friends know and even put it in writing with instructions that the doctors are not to know this until everyone is certain that you are really dead.  Then and only then let the harvest begin.