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The NH Register Story about Bryan Donahue's book – On Borrowed Time – How I Built a Life While Beating Death - is a wonderful accounting of what is possible with organ donation.

We are happy for this family and pleased that they are sharing their story. While not many living people can easily donate a piece of liver or a kidney, with consistent and committed education efforts cadaver donation can be increased significantly.   It will take time, but it can certainly be done and it will make a positive difference to thousands who are waiting for the life-saving gift.
The most significant barriers to organ and tissue donation are:
1) A lack of fundamental information because most families do not discuss this topic. Therefore, when a pre-mature death occurs decision-making family members stay with their personal perspective. Most often that perspective about organ and tissue donation (O&T) is a negative one, so donation does not take place.  As a result some of the waiting lists for certain organs and tissue remains long.

As of today 8/12/12 there are 114,830 people on the national waiting list. The majority of people on this list (99,213) are waiting for kidneys; 16,750 are waiting for a liver transplant.  Of the number waiting for a kidney transplant 33,686 are African American and 18,528 are Hispanic.  Another 811 Blacks and Hispanics are waiting for a kidney and pancreas combined transplant.  The disproportion to the percentage of the population is evident.

2)  Many people in the American culture are uncomfortable talking about death.  This is particularly true of parents with their adolescent and young adult children.  Quite often the children are willing to have the conversation, but parents will say - we don't want to hear this.  Nothing is going to happen to you.  Many such parents seem to believe that if they have the conversation something bad will happen to their children. If and when something does happen (as in an accident or shooting that lead to brain death), the decision that is made is based upon the parents' perspective and not on the intended wishes of their deceased children. As a result many organs and tissues go into the ground rather than into saving lives or to improving the quality of life for many who are waiting.

3)  There are also persistent societal myths and misconceptions about organ and tissue donation.  There are also false claims by many that it is against certain Christian beliefs to donate organs and tissue.  The reality is most religions support O&T donation as a act of religious charity.

Not enough has been done to consistently educate the broader community about the significant benefits of organ and tissue donation.  The many churches in our communities could play a much more active role in encouraging the conversation and promoting education.  While individual stories --such as this one-- are powerful and effective, and certainly make a significant difference to those directly affected, they have limited reach on the overall effects of O&T donation.  Having an indepth family discussion and making individual wishes clear to loved ones is essential.

4)  In 2012 it is time that the benefits of organ and tissue donation be as integral a part of health literacy as is information about heart disease, the detriment of smoking or the importance of lowering bad cholesterol.  This is a public good.  If people are better informed they will more likely donate. It is important to have the conversation; it at least makes family members more comfortable in making that final decision.


N'Zinga Shani, OneWorld Progressive Institute

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