February 22, 2013 by Op-Ed
Yesterday I finally made the commitment to give away my heart to that special someone. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I initiated the act in a dimly lit room with a grand gesture: I checked the “Yes” box for organ donation while renewing my license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Though most recognize the date Feb. 14 as Valentine’s Day, I chose to celebrate its designation as National Donor Day.
My awareness of the importance of organ donation began in my teenage years as I watched my best friend, Julie, battle the deleterious effects of cystic fibrosis. Julie spent years on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list alongside more than 100,000 people awaiting organ transplantation. Death was imminent as her health rapidly deteriorated.
The end of 2012 brought a miracle. Julie received the lifesaving gift of a new set of lungs. Inspired by the generosity of a stranger to save lives in the wake of his passing, I opted to become an organ donor.
As per the United States’ opt-in system of organ procurement, a person must give explicit consent to become an organ donor. Consent can be given by checking a box on a form at the DMV or by signing up online through your state’s donor registry. The process of becoming an organ donor is incredibly easy. However, the minimal effort involved is enough to prevent willing persons from donating organs to the growing number of people in need.
The opt-in system has resulted in a less-than-desirable national rate of 40 percent of the population registered as organ donors. The inadequacy of this turnout is easily evidenced; approximately 7,000 people die each year while awaiting a transplant.
The best alternative to the opt-in system would be one of opting out. This system presumes that all people consent to organ donation unless they explicitly refuse organ donation. Any person opposed can follow the same simple method for opting out that currently exists for opting in.
The policy change would dramatically increase the number of available organ donors, in turn greatly reducing the number of annual deaths and shortening the UNOS waiting list.
For those who remain skeptical, let’s briefly examine a country that adheres to the opt-out system of organ procurement.
In 1982, Austria implemented the opt-out system. Austria maintains the highest rates of consent for organ donation in the world at a staggering 99 percent.
Perhaps this could help explain the distinct difference in health system rankings between Austria and the United States according to the World Health Organization’s World Health Report in 2000. Out of the 191 WHO member states, Austria was ranked ninth while the U.S. finished a dismal 38th.
The disparity in national organ donor consent rates and consequential health system rankings between the U.S. and Austria highlights the inadequacy of the opt-in system.
Until a few days ago, I was a part of the 60 percent not registered as organ donors. I had always been a proponent of transplantation but had never followed through on registering.
The impetus for my registration was something as dramatic my best friend’s double lung transplant. Personal beliefs often do not incite assertive action. Perpetuated by the opt-in system, tens of millions of Americans neglect to act on their intentions of becoming organ donors.
Unlike many of the major social problems facing this country, organ shortages have a viable, inexpensive solution with proven effectiveness.
The U.S. policy on organ procurement needs to be changed. The Julies of our country depend on it.
While we wait for our country’s leaders and policymakers to address one of today’s most pressing issues, let’s do our part to save as many lives as possible within the constraints of the current opt-in system.
Though Valentine’s Day has passed, it is never too late to give the ultimate gift from the heart. Opt to make a difference today by becoming an organ donor.
Erin Power is a student at Drexel University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.