Why do families block organ donations?

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Sabrina Almeida

Have you ever thought about donating your organs?

I have and would like to… however certain family members aren’t receptive to the idea and have instructed me not do it. As a result, any organ donation information and sign up forms quickly find their way to the recycle or garbage bin. Just in case I capitulate.

Not that it is any one’s business or decision either… but still it has prevented me from signing up. Then recently I realized that even if I had registered for what I consider a life-saving initiative, my family could block it from happening when the time came. What’s worse my wishes wouldn’t count at all. Isn’t that absurd?

Sad but true, in Ontario where family consent is sought at the time of the individual’s passing, it has proven to be a major obstacle for organ donation.

Conversations with friends revealed different reasons for this negative attitude. The main ones being lack of information, mistrust and religion.

Public outreach on organ donation would go a long way in educating people about what’s involved. While all of us acknowledge that it saves lives, uncertainty about the process may prevent many from making the commitment. Some believe that it will delay laying their family member to rest and expect a “battle” with medics for their loved one’s remains. They do not want to make the grieving process more traumatic and will therefore block the donation.

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Perhaps here is where the permission process needs to change. Family consent should be sought before the individual’s passing. Most families are not in the right frame of mind and hardly think in terms of giving life or letting their loved one live through another person at the time of death. Securing their approval earlier on might prevent sacrificing this opportunity to save a life on the altar of grief.

Suffice to say, a huge amount of responsibility also lies with those who want to donate. The humongous gap between the number of those in favour and those that actually go through with it speaks volumes. For example, one study revealed that while more 90% in the UK supported organ donation in public polls, less than one-third are registered donors. The same can be said of Ontario. According to the Trillium Gift of Life Network more than 85% of Ontarians are in favour of organ donation. However, only one in three Ontarians have registered their consent to donate.

We should make our wishes known and stand up for what we believe in. Organ donation like end-of-life rights requires more than one conversation. If advance directives protect end-of-life decisions, some provisions should also be made to honour the choice to donate your organs. Simply put, if we can respect a loved one’s wish to end life… we should accept their decision to give life through organ donation.

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Some others, not in favour, are victims of their religious beliefs. They hold the view that the body which is a gift from God should be given back to the creator as is—not disrespected by the process of removing organs. I can offer no counter to this thinking except to ask which religion would prevent you from saving a life. Most consider it a supreme act of love and charity.

In the case of a brain-dead diagnosis, the belief that a miracle can occur might also prevent organ donation. Families that hold this hope are often fearful of the “what if”. Meaning what will happen if the individual revives but is without vital organs?

Others who are against it, may mistrust doctors on account of the multiple scandals surrounding organ donation. Indians, for instance, are less likely to be favourably disposed because of the organ donation racket in their home country. Growing up stories of ‘foreigners’ buying organs from the less-privileged were common place and rarely drew reaction from the public. This thinking has crossed borders, no thanks to unscrupulous medics like Dr. Horror from Brampton. The Indian-born Dr. Amit Kumar who had a house in Brampton was allegedly the kingpin of a kidney transplant ring involving 500 unsuspecting destitute Indians whose organs were harvested for sale. He was exposed in 2008 and an Interpol warrant issued for him.

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Whatever the objection or reason we drag our feet, there is little doubt that most of us would change our stance in a heartbeat if we or someone we love needs an organ transplant. It should not take an extenuating circumstance.

The Trillium Gift of Life Network reports that as of September 27, 2017 around 1,530 persons are on the organ donors waiting list in Ontario. The biggest need is for kidneys (1,103) followed by liver (217) and heart (40). The average wait time for a kidney is four years and ten months.

It also shows that in 2015-16 (April to March), 21% of families overruled donors wishes compared to 14.5% in 2013-14 and 18.2% in 2014-15.

Beadonor.ca informs us that a single donor can save up to eight lives. The numbers alone should make the case for a positive decision.

Let’s start the conversation to encourage organ donations in our families today.

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  1. I strongly believe that once a person commits to donating their organs that their wish should be honoured at the time of death. I understand the grief and anguish the families go through but a person donates knowing full well what they are committing to and the lives that they are helping to save .I feel that this is one issue that needs to be addressed and rectified