Clearing Up the Organ Donation Myth

Snopes.com responds to the idiotic urban legend that, if you’re an organ donor, doctors won’t do everything they can to save your life.

Here are a couple examples of the donation myth:

I heard that having the pink organ donor ticket on your driver license will cause the Paramedics to allow you to die in order to harvest your organs. The rumor claims that due to the long list of people on the organ waiting list, the Paramedics are instructed to allow organ donors to die.

Barbara Mikkelson points out the obvious:

While the rumor would appear to confirm the belief that physicians involved in harvesting organs will happily sacrifice one patient in their efforts to secure parts for others, such belief overlooks one particular facet of this conjecture: Doctors who fail to provide their best medical care to their patients can and will be sued. As professional healers, they are held to a higher legal “standard of care” than is the average person and thus aren’t afforded the luxury in life or death situations of not attempting to do all in their power to save those whose lives hang in the balance. Additionally, in those instances where patients died, doctors who did decide to scale back care could well be charged with homicide.

The people who believe this nonsense are the same people who believe chain emails and slanderous rumors. A minute of research is all it would take to clear these lies up, but that’s too much work. It’s just easier to be gullible… ugh.

I’ve said it before: If you have the ability to donate your organs (or body) after you die, do it. You’re being selfish if you choose otherwise.


[tags]atheist, atheism, organ donation, urban legends[/tags]

  • Elizabeth
  • Kate

    I was going to say…there was a scandal that came out this week about hastening death for organ donation. Hopefully rare, but I guess it can happen.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    There’s actually a trial going on right on in CA regarding a doc who is accused of hastening someone’s death to harvest organs. He’s most likely innocent, as the patient’s organs were unusable by the time he died, but it does a lot to perpetuate the myth.

    You’re right and the Snopes article mentions this case specifically. Even if it’s true, though, this is one isolated case. I’ve never heard of any group of doctors saying or thinking that taking someone’s life for their organs is a good idea. Ever. It doesn’t happen.

  • Mercurious

    I’ve always been an organ donor since I could get my license. I’ve always figured I’ll be done with the body, let someone else get some good out of it. What gets me though is I have a friend who’s father is having kidney problems, but when I mentioned that I am a donor and urged her to become one also she’s like “WHY?” She understands how he would get his kidney but its always “someone else.” *sigh* She also doesn’t understand my desire to be cremated. Ummm I’m dead, I don’t need a box. “But where would I go if I wanted to visit your grave?”

  • Chris

    I have never disagreed with you Hemant, until this moment. A person’s body is their own, and if they do not want to donate it, they have that right. It is not selfish at all! Is it selfish to have a savings account? Isn’t that money just sitting there and not helping people, just like organs would be in the grave?

    Personally I think we should be able to sell our organs when we die. Call me crazy, but it would very quickly clear up the waiting lists for organs if there was a benefit. The family could use that money for college, for a down payment on a house, for savings, investments…I think it would be good. It’d be a way the rich could trickle down their wealth to the poor.

    I choose not to be an organ donor. It’s my body, I have that right. If you disagree, then how can you say women have the right to choose abortion? It’s their body, isn’t it?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Chris — There’s a huge difference between a savings account and organs. I didn’t hear you explain why you want to keep your organs, but yes, you have that right. I would never want organ donation to be forced upon anyone, but I don’t see any reason to keep them when you’re dead and they could be helping someone else.

    I’m sure there are plenty of ways to make the process of donation better and more efficient, but that’s besides the point.

  • Elizabeth

    You’re right and the Snopes article mentions this case specifically. Even if it’s true, though, this is one isolated case. I’ve never heard of any group of doctors saying or thinking that taking someone’s life for their organs is a good idea. Ever. It doesn’t happen.

    I didn’t mean to imply that I thought it did ever happen. I happen to agree with you that there is a moral duty to donate one’s organs and I disagree with Chris’s assertion that society should allow people to sell their organs. That would create a situation where the wealthy would benefit and the poor would suffer. And with the majority of organs donated ending up rejected (as in the case I referenced above), it becomes even more important to donate your body to medicine/science after you die.

    But that’s just one girl’s opinion. :)

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Although I agree that being a donator is the obvious choice for someone who doesn’t believe there’s a use for our bodies after death, I do think that you expressed yourself overly harshly, Hemant. It’s not always about gullibility – it can also be about trust. I know at least one person who is a donor but felt rather awful about it, simply because his view of humanity is very cynical and he simply doesn’t TRUST doctors to do their best. He doesn’t feel like he can be sure that there will be loved ones around who will fight for his cause, either. (He also doesn’t live in a country where suing people appears to be standard practice when you’re a little miffed about something, so that argument is moot.)

    You might call this feeling irrational but seriously, given how people are, can you really blame someone for being cynical? It may be irrational, it may be depressing, but it’s most definitely not gullible.

  • ash

    Chris, –

    I choose not to be an organ donor. It’s my body, I have that right.

    absolutely.

    If you disagree, then how can you say women have the right to choose abortion? It’s their body, isn’t it?

    say what now? i’m terrible at analogies myself, but even i can see the clear difference betwen a woman making a decision that will impact the rest of her life and someone making a decision that will not even be implemented til after their death; the outcomes of which will they will not even be around to experience.

    i guess, like Hemant, i’m wondering why you would want to preserve a body you are no longer privy to?

  • Jen

    Personally I think we should be able to sell our organs when we die. Call me crazy, but it would very quickly clear up the waiting lists for organs if there was a benefit. The family could use that money for college, for a down payment on a house, for savings, investments…I think it would be good. It’d be a way the rich could trickle down their wealth to the poor.

    Hey, Ron Reagan wants his terms back- they didn’t work in the 80s, so why bring them up now? The problem with selling organs is obvious- I love my family, they are in dire need of money and won’t get any money from my life insurance policy if I commit suicide and/or I don’t have life insurance- so I kill myself for the organ money. Now, maybe they regect my organs for medical reasons- the doctors didn’t notice I had Hep B, for instance- and where is my family now? I’m dead and there is no chance they will get any money for it, and I can’t make more money while buried. It seems more likely to me that the rich, who have access to medical care and don’t have to overwork their organs as much in real life, are more likely to enefit from donations.

    Also, who the hell is paying for the organs? The sick people who need organs? Taxes? Consider how many people are on organ waiting lists, and multiply that by “a down payment on a house”.

    If you disagree, then how can you say women have the right to choose abortion?

    Having a baby is not the same as being dead and having a few organs missing. I mean, really now, think hard about this for a minute. If I have a baby, the rest of my life is different. If I die and someone takes my organs, I am still dead.

    Don’t donate your organs, whatever, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with my rights as a woman to my own live body.

  • Karen

    The people who believe this nonsense are the same people who believe chain emails and slanderous rumors. A minute of research is all it would take to clear these lies up, but that’s too much work. It’s just easier to be gullible… ugh.

    Ugh, is right. These are the same people as the rural Ohio voters who believe Obama is a Muslim who doesn’t know the words to the national anthem and “won’t use the bible.”

    The bigger problem is that they don’t know how to think for themselves. They just digest what someone they trust tells them. And fundamentalist religion, unfortunately, is a major culprit for that ignorance because it teaches people to be “sheep.”

  • Aj

    Chris,

    I have never disagreed with you Hemant, until this moment. A person’s body is their own, and if they do not want to donate it, they have that right. It is not selfish at all! Is it selfish to have a savings account? Isn’t that money just sitting there and not helping people, just like organs would be in the grave?

    Not using your money is seen as immoral and selfish. Saving accounts aren’t not using money, it’s saving it for another time. Money and organs have an obvious difference. It’s not like organs can still be used weeks later, or gain interest. If choosing to not give away something you can’t use, at no loss, isn’t selfish, then I don’t know what is.

  • what if

    I would donate but what if it goes to some idiot radical? I don’t want to be the guy who saved Pat Robertson so he can continue to retard humanity.

  • Nick

    I think I’ve tracked down the source of this fear.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tmLvzubP3I

  • Chris

    I just don’t understand how anyone can say it’s a “moral obligation”. I really don’t believe anything is required of us, hence why I’m an Atheist. It’d be nice if people just gave away their organs to complete strangers, but they’re not required to. The “duty” idea is surely wrong.

    Everyone is right—there is a huge difference between a savings account and organs, but under the idea that “whatever you aren’t using should go to help others”, then I can’t comprehend why we have any possessions. Why not just give everything extra away to help others? (I, if you can’t tell, disagree with this notion)

    If we could sell our organs there would be a benefit and it would nearly eliminate the waiting lists. How would this be bad for the poor? Suddenly they’d have thousands at their disposal, to which they could pay off debt, put towards school, invest in bettering their life (new clothes, new car, etc.) and so many other things. As sad as it is when we lose a loved one, what if they suddenly could give their poor families $100,000? I think it would push towards a more achievable social mobility.

    Obviously the rich would benefit, too.If they need the organs, they could find them and continue living. The wealth would be redistributed in a fair way; not just from taxing them 90%.

  • http://www.lifesharers.org Dave Undis

    Over half of the 98,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year. Over 6,000 of our neighbors suffer and die needlessly every year as a result.

    There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage — give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren’t willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

    Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at http://www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

  • Aj

    Chris,

    I just don’t understand how anyone can say it’s a “moral obligation”. I really don’t believe anything is required of us, hence why I’m an Atheist. It’d be nice if people just gave away their organs to complete strangers, but they’re not required to. The “duty” idea is surely wrong.

    Perhaps I’m mistaken but I think you have taken duty and obligation the wrong way, it doesn’t have to mean requirement as you think it does.

    That’s an irrational and lame reason to be an atheist.

    Everyone is right—there is a huge difference between a savings account and organs, but under the idea that “whatever you aren’t using should go to help others”, then I can’t comprehend why we have any possessions. Why not just give everything extra away to help others? (I, if you can’t tell, disagree with this notion)

    That’s a bit extreme, any possessions, you mean you don’t use or want any of your possessions? Are you against giving away old equipment you aren’t using, will not use again, but are not considering selling? I think that giving away extra can be in self-interest for a variety of reasons.

    I don’t believe that property rights should be applied to bodies, although in many legal documents they are, but perhaps perversly the same states that do this do not allow people to do with their property what they wish. Very few things that apply to property seem to apply to bodies in these states.

  • Chris

    Davis, thank you for sharing that link. I am going to carefully read everything from that site, but it seems like most likely I will join it.

    My problem with the organ donor program is the selflessness. I don’t want people hacking away at my body unless I get some kind of benefit. It’s human nature! We are self-interested beings. By joining LifeSharers, I am totally ok knowing that my organs would go to fellow organ donors. It is in my interest, my family’s interest and the interest of the other thousands of members. It benefits everyone.

    But to simply be an organ donor “just to be nice” doesn’t make sense. This program has the incentive that does. So after I read everything, I will most likely join! :-)

  • K

    I absolutely would NEVER donate my organs because:
    A) Humans are not endangered. If a baby is born deficient and lacks the ability to survive, it should be allowed to die in peace. We absolutely should NOT give it new organs and allow it to grow up and breed more deficient humans. Survival of the fittest means making tough decisions.

    B) I most certainly would NOT give my liver to a drunk. The drunk spent his life destroying his/her body and does not deserve a second chance.

    The only ONLY time I would willingly allow someone to have my organs would be if a person was in some sort of an accident. Not a birth defect, not self-abuse. Since the donor has no say in what happens to their organs, I will not donate.

  • http://DonateLifeIllinois.org Scott

    Wow, some interesting comments all around. Again, thanks for addressing the issue Hemant. I will start by saying the CA case is one very isolated case. The “doctor won’t save my life” is the one myth that stands out above all others in our outreach and it’s usually due to a bad rumor or simple lack of education. Take 30 seconds and learn the facts.

    More than 98,000 people are currently waiting for lifesaving transplants. These people are just like you. So, what if it was you waiting for a transplant? Empathize for one moment with those out there that are waking up today, not quite sure how many days (maybe even hours) they have left to live. Ask people like Corinne, Lacey , Steve, Aimee and Lisa if they’re grateful for having new lives. Their lives were saved because of the selfless act of others who registered as donors.

    Chris notes above:

    “But to simply be an organ donor “just to be nice” doesn’t make sense. This program has the incentive that does. So after I read everything, I will most likely join!”

    Do you really need an incentive to do something decent and good in this life?! Is it really too much for you to just register without an incentive?

    Nearly 90% of people nationwide feel that registering to be an organ donor is “the right thing to do.” If you don’t want to be a donor, don’t register. Regardless, don’t allow myths and misconceptions or procrastination stand as barriers to registration. People are waiting today for you to take 30 seconds to register. Learn the facts, take action.

    -Scott
    Donate Life Illinois – Campaign Manager
    http://www.DonateLifeIllinois.org

  • Mike Raymond

    I lived in a house with a guy who was a scrub tech for several years. This was in Seattle and he worked at one of the main hospitals.

    One night, about ten years ago, he came home from work very disturbed. He didn’t want to talk about it at first but finally opened up about it. A man had been brought in for surgery that night who had been in a car accident. My housemate said that the doctors did try to save him, but it was evident to him that they were not trying very hard. There was a patient in need of one of his organs. They declared the guy dead very fast, did not go to any heroic efforts to revive him, and rush-harvested his organs and shipped them to another hospital. After I learned about this I tore up my organ donor agreement, and decided I would not sign an organ donor card again.

    I find it interesting that when I’ve posted this information online I’ve gotten everything from screeching death threats (!) and legal threats to accusations that I’m a liar. Snopes calls it a ??myth? and people blithely tell themself it isnâ??t true. But it is not a lie, it did happen, and he (my housemate) eventually changed jobs because he saw it happen more than once and it was creeping him out. He did not say it was deliberate on anyone’s part, but rather that there was a subtle pressure that he perceived at work in the operating room, to not work very hard to save someone if someone else â??neededâ? their organs. I would say, go ahead and sign up to be an organ donor, no one is stopping you. But after what I learned, not from some myth but from my friend’s experience, I would never do so again.

  • Marte_macasinag

    i just want know the organs origin myth by the deities but i dont find in here,  i do believe in this because its also related in the bible it said.


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