Don’t believe these myths. (Photo: Corbis/Envision)
Sure, it’s morbid to think about what will happen to your body after you die, but letting fear, along with myths and misinformation, keep you from becoming an organ donor also prevents you from potentially saving lives.
In fact, a single organ donor can save up to eight people’s lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“People often have many misconceptions and misunderstandings about the organ-donation process,” Jenna Arnold, co-founder with Greg Segal of ORGANIZE.org, the first central organ donor registry in the U.S., tells Yahoo Health. “Twenty-one people die every day waiting for an organ transplant — clearly, they would be helped enormously by more donor registrations.“
The organ donation process can be riddled with hearsay — and much of this false information may unnecessarily deter people from becoming a donor. Don’t be derailed by the myths and fears; here are some of the most common ones, and why they’re unfounded.
Myth: The EMTs won’t go the extra mile to save your life if you’re a registered organ donor.
That’s absolutely not true, says David Barlas, MD, assistant professor and chief of service at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine at Cobble Hill. "We always treat every patient to our maximum ability unless a health care proxy or the patient is able to tell us that they don’t want any heroic measures done, such as with terminal cancer or hospice care,” Barlas tells Yahoo Health.
The same goes for emergency medical technicians (EMTs), who don’t typically check to see if you’re an organ donor. “Unless they have a do not resuscitate [order], we will give it everything we’ve got,” Taz Meyer, an EMT paramedic and vice chair of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians' EMS Safety Committee, tells Yahoo Health. “We’re going to do the best we can to save them."
In practice, EMTs don’t have access to the donor registry, notes Arnold. "It’s only after someone passes away that the donor hospital will call the local Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), which then search for an individual’s donation status,” she explains.
Myth: Doctors may not wait until you’re officially declared dead to start removing organs.
Not true. Organ donors are actually given more tests to confirm death than non-organ donors, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Interestingly, more hospital staff need to sign off on a declaration of death if someone is an organ donor than if they are not because it will require additional medical procedures,” notes Arnold. “So, it may be a bit counterintuitive, but if someone had some great fear that they might one day be declared dead while they are still alive, the safest thing they can do to safeguard against that is actually to register as an organ donor.”
Myth: Organ donation is probably against your religion.
Many major religions and denominations, including Catholicism, Islam, Presbyterian, and most branches of Judaism, are not against organ donation, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. If you’re not sure about your religion’s stance on organ donation, ask a member of your clergy.
Myth: If you’re an organ donor, you may end up getting drugged, kidnapped, and wake up in a bathtub of ice missing a kidney, which will be sold on the black market.
This is a classic urban legend and has more in common with a horror movie script than reality. “Also, from a practical standpoint, if some lunatic wanted to kidnap you and procure your organ, we can guarantee that they don’t care whether or not that individual was a registered organ donor,” says Arnold.
Myth: You’re too old to donate.
There is no age cut-off — young or old — to becoming a donor. “While not all deaths lend themselves medically to transplantation, and not all organs are necessarily viable for transplant for every donor even if their death was medically eligible, it is always best to register as a donor and let the medical team later decide whether or not your organs are suitable,” Arnold explains.
She adds: "People sometimes think they are helping a potential recipient by sparing them their organs, which they assume are too old or too sick, but the best thing you can do is always to register as a donor. Even if you are older, there may be a recipient of the same age as you who is a perfect match for your organ."
If you’d like to become an organ donor, you can register through your local department of motor vehicles, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or through ORGANIZE.org, which passes registration information to the appropriate registry in 38 states on your behalf. "When someone registers on our site, the first question we ask for is their ZIP code, which we then use to mirror the exact registration process in each state, and then flow that donor’s information directly into the appropriate registry,” explains Arnold. “This makes ORGANIZE the only site in the country that spans across almost all states, while also meeting each state’s registration laws. This is a huge step forward, sparing most Americans the hassle of trying to find their state specific registration platform.”
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