Explicit consent: A flawed system when concerning organ donation

April 24, 2017 — by Sherrie Shen

Sophomore shares her opinion on consent for organ donation. 

In the summer of 2004, a local family named the Bedards endured a devastating tragedy: the loss of their then 8-year-old son, Andrew Bedard.

Despite having no history of medical issues, it turned out that Andrew had a deformed blood vessel. This resulted in a cerebral aneurysm, in which a vessel in the brain ruptures due to high arterial pressure, leading to his death.

Seeking to have some good come from his tragic death, Andrew’s family decided to donate his organs. Ultimately, his liver went to an attorney in Fresno, his small intestine to a 7-year-old girl, a kidney to a man, another to a woman and a cornea each to two women.

Andrew’s organs saved the attorney, who was on his deathbed and even said his final goodbyes before news of an available liver transplant arrived. His small intestine helped a young girl eat for the first time and his corneas allowed two women regain the ability of sight once more.

This story, which the Falcon wrote about in 2012, is one of hundreds, if not thousands of inspiring gifts that result when individuals and families have the courage to allow for organ donation.

The problem is that in the U.S., individuals must opt-in by checking a box on their driver’s license to confirm that they are a willing donor. This means that those who neglect to respond do not have their organs donated.

Instead, the United States should implement a system of presumed consent in which individuals are to donate their organs unless they explicitly state otherwise. In other words, the U.S. should take organs from those who do not write anything on their organ donation form at all.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN), more than 118,000 U.S. residents are currently on the national transplant waiting list, in need of a life-saving organ. Every year, the number of people on the list grows by roughly 10 percent.

With the U.S.’s current opt-in program, the number of actual donors in 2017 totals to approximately 2,500, barely covering 2 percent of the population in need of an organ transplant. Furthermore, this percentage disregards whether patient and recipient are a match, or how compatible the organ donor is with the recipient.

One reason some individuals choose not to donate their organs is due to the mistaken belief that doctors will not try as hard to save a patient’s life if they are a registered organ donor. In point of fact, the first priority of a medical professional is to save lives. In addition, the doctors involved in a person’s care are rarely ever involved with the recovery or transplant of organs.

If a patient is still hesitant about the use of their organs, under a presumed consent system, they would still be allowed to opt-out of donation.

In addition, a joint research study conducted by three universities in the United Kingdom analyzed organ donation systems in 48 countries for 13 years, before concluding that opt-out systems are associated with higher organ donation rates, thus leading to shorter transplant waiting lists and more lives saved.

In Italy, France, Spain and other European countries with a policy of presumed content, more than 90 percent of people donate their organs upon death. Meanwhile, an analysis from Stanford SPARQ shows that in countries like the U.S. and Germany, organ donation rates can fall below 15 percent.

Individuals who donate their organs can extend up to eight lives beyond their original expiration and grant those people the opportunity to grow old.

None of us knows how long we will live or what legacy we will leave in life, but we should all be willing to extend and enrich the lives of others as shown by the inspiring story of Andrew Bedard.

To encourage life after death, let us assume the best of people and make this crucial change in the policy of organ donation decisions.

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