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One viewpoint: The gift of life

It seems like a simple question when renewing your driver's license: "Would you like to be an organ donor?" However, the truth is, it is a thought provoking question about a complicated, often controversial, issue. I never gave the question much thought until a personal experience in which organ donation played a significant role forever changed my life. At that moment, I knew I would not only be an organ donor myself, but I would share my experience to help others see why they should support it as well.

Organ donation is the removal of the tissues of the human body from a person who has recently died, or from a living donor, for the purpose of transplanting. An organ donor may save up to eight
lives and enhance many other lives through eye and tissue donation. One eye and tissue donor can enhance as many as 50 lives. The organs of the body that currently can be transplanted are
the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines. The transplantation of these organs is considered a life-saving organ donation. A heart transplant can be used to help people suffering
from heart failure as well as babies born with birth defects. Liver transplants may be used to treat various conditions that cause liver failures. Kidney transplants are used in patients with severe kidney
failure. Lung transplants may help patients with severe lung disease such as cystic fibrosis, COPD, and emphysema. Pancreatic transplants may help patients with insulin-dependent Type I diabetes. Intestine transplants may help people diagnosed with life-threatening intestinal diseases.

In addition to these life-saving donations, life-enhancing tissue donations are also possible. These include the cornea, skin, heart valves and tendons. Cornea transplants are a common procedure used to restore vision in people with eye diseases and corneal infections. Skin transplants, also known as skin grafts, are used to treat severe burns, extensive wounds, and skin loss due to infection. Heart valve transplants are used to treat malfunctioning heart valves caused by birth defects, infections and aging. Tendon transplants are recommended for patients who have lost muscle function due to nerve injury or tendon damage.

The number of candidates in need of an organ donation far exceeds the number of organs available. Each day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants. However, over 100,000 people are waiting for an organ. A new candidate is added to the organ donation waiting list every ten minutes. Approximately 18 people will die each day due to a shortage of organs (donatelife.org). Each of
these numbers represents a life-a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister or a friend. Each of these lives is important to someone. People of any age can give and receive organ donation. Anyone over the age of 18 can register to be an organ donor.

At the time of death, donation professionals determine whether the deceased's organs can be used for transplantation. There is no cost to donors, or their families, for organ or tissue donation. Organ donation provides an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy through organ and tissue transplantation. Despite many compelling reasons to support organ donation or be an organ donor, many people deterred from choosing this path due to several myths surrounding organ donation. Some people are concerned doctors will not try to save their lives if they are an organ donor.

However, as stated by James Dubois, if a person is sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the doctors' number one priority is to save his/her life whether or not he/she is an organ donor. The decision for organ donation is not final until a patient is declared brain dead ("Brain Death Is an Ethical Criterion for Organ Removal for Transplantation"). Brain death occurs when the brain is totally and irreversibly non-functional. Another reason people hesitate to become an organ donor is fear of religious objection. Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others. In an article discussing the ethics of organ transplantation, Pope John Paul II stated that not only does he believe it is ethical to transplant organs, but it also is a "genuine act of love."

"Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity" (Dubois). Often times, people worry that organ donation will prevent the opportunity for a loved one to have an open-casket funeral. An open-casket funeral is possible for organ, eye and tissue donors. Throughout the entire donation process, the body is treated with
care, respect and dignity. There are no visible signs of organ or tissue donations. Donors are clothed and positioned in the casket in such a way that no one can see any difference. According to Saberi, Debra Budiani and Deborah M. Golden, another objection to organ donation centers around the fear that organs will be sold. This concern can be allayed with the fact that Federal Law prohibits buying and selling organs in the United States. Violators are punishable by prison sentences and fines ("The Sale of Human Organs Is Unethical").

There is also a fear associated with organ donation that organs are not allocated fairly and that people of certain status or ethnicity receive preference. Contrary to popular belief, celebrity and financial status are not considered in organ placement. Depending on the organ, many factors are taken into consideration when placing organs for transplantation. These factors include but are
not limited to: age, blood type, medical urgency, waiting time, geographic distance between donor and recipient, size of donor/recipient and type of organ needed ("Matching donors and recipients:
The Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network and the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients").

Thanks to organ donation,many people with life-threateningillnesses can look forward to a future and a second chance at life. Many others can experience a better quality of life through donated tissues. Prior to June 20, 2013, I never gave pause to consider the simple question "Do you want to be an organ donor?" However, when my dad was pronounced brain dead following a traumatic accident, this simple question took on a whole new meaning. When faced with a crisis with heart wrenching impacts, the opportunity to honor his wishes, give people a new lease on life and have his life continue through others was a beacon of hope. Through this courageous gift he helped many other people and became the hero that my family always knew he was.

Since that time, I continue to promote organ donation in my daily life by sharing my experience with others and by proudly wearing my "Donate Life" bracelet. I encourage everyone to consider supporting organ donation by becoming a registered organ donor. Seize your opportunity to make a lasting legacy, help make a miracle happen and provide others with a second chance at life.

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