Muzna Gulamali, MSW, Transplant Social Worker
Around the world, organ donation policies vary greatly. We currently have an opt-in system, which means one must actively opt in to donate their organs after death. Some countries have opt-out systems, where organ donation will occur automatically unless specifically requested otherwise. A 2012 study found that organ donation rates are typically exceeding 90 percent in opt-out countries, where as they are at a mere 15 percent in some opt-in countries. The topic of organ donation is important to consider because it is truly life-changing. One organ donor holds the potential to save eight lives. In addition, they can also utilize their tissues. One tissue donor can help approximately 75 to 100 people.
Unfortunately, about 7,000 people died last year, waiting for a transplant. Despite continuing efforts at education and awareness, there are many reasons why people do not want to be organ donors, including fear, mistrust or simply just not knowing enough about it. There are a few inaccuracies that many still believe that prevent them from agreeing to organ donation. The most common being that not all efforts will be made to save your life if you are a registered organ donor. If you are sick or injured, the priority will always be to save your life. Doctors do not take into consideration whether or not you have registered to be an organ donor. However, there is a strong level of mistrust that patients, especially minority groups, often have in their healthcare providers. As an advocate for the patient, it is important that medical social workers continue to build rapport with their patients and attempt to decrease the level of wariness the patient feels.
Often the critical decision on whether to donate organs is brought up in what has to be the most wrenching time for a family – when they are at bedside watching a loved one whose death is pending. I believe this important decision should be discussed earlier. Social workers are often tasked with having difficult conversations with families, whether it be coordinating end-of-life services, or discussing advance care planning. I encourage all social workers to discuss the importance of organ and tissue donation in these conversations, also, as organ donation is truly the gift of life.