When we heard that France made organ donation the default for everyone — you have to opt out, not in — we thought we’d examine what’s going on in this country and if that could be a good idea here.
The good news is that for the fourth year in a row, a record number of organ transplants were performed in the U.S.; 33,606 procedures in 2016 alone, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. That’s an 8.5 percent increase over 2015, and a 19.8 percent increase since 2012. Nearly 95 percent of American adults say they support organ donation.
But only 48 percent of adults actually register to donate when they die. From that pool, only 3 out of every 1,000 potential donors die in such a way that makes donation even possible! That’s why there are more than 119,000 people waiting for a donated organ and why 22 people a day die waiting for an organ donation that never arrives.
As of September 2016, 81.9 percent of folks on the waiting list needed a kidney; 11.4 percent, a liver; 3.2 percent, a heart; 1.1 percent, a lung; 2.5 percent, all others (pancreas, intestines).
In addition to donating those organs, you can donate blood, blood vessels, bones, bone marrow, cartilage, connective tissues (tendons, ligaments), eyes (and components of eyes), heart valves, veins, skin and, as of 2014, hands and face.
How donation works
First, the medical team must determine that the donor is brain-dead. The hospital then contacts the Organ Procurement Organization. It works with the hospital and family to see if the person is a candidate for donation. If he or she is, the OPO will contact the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. The OPTN operates the national database of all patients in the U.S. waiting for a transplant and is in charge of matching a potentially donated organ with a recipient.
One donor may contribute eight organs: a heart, two lungs, liver, two kidneys, pancreas and intestines.
What are the obstacles to donation? Researchers suggest that when donation is the default (as in France now), people view it as expected and are more likely to go along with the plan. But that doesn’t always hold true: In Portugal and Belgium, two countries with automatic opt-ins, the actual donation rate from those who are deceased is around 27 people per million, just a hair above the U.S. rate.
We think you just need to reflect on how you’d eagerly pursue finding a donor and how thankful you’d be if that organ donation saved the life of a loved one, or of you! Then there’s no question that you’d gladly help someone else receive the same gift. Go to organdonor.gov.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit www.sharecare.com.