There are still a lot of myths about organ donation and that could explain why millions of people have not signed their state registry’s donation card yet (in this blog I will mostly talk about deceased donors because living donor is much different). Education is the key solution to achieve higher success and it is just hard to reach everybody. The reason people are signing the registry is to become a deceased organ donor if they eventually become brain dead. This condition, brain death, is used as a legal definition in many countries. It is irreversible and is usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain AKA brain anoxic injury. Before declaring someone brain dead, physicians will perform several tests so they can apply that diagnosis to the patient. They mainly look for reflexes like checking if a patient will breathe on his own after unplugging the breathing machine and will also look at pupils reactions (or lack of reaction) with a pen light.
One of the main fears is that people are scared that their doctor will give up on them faster because there are potentially good organ donors. This is not true at all. If you knew how most physicians hate to lose patients, you would understand that they will do everything for you. That myth could be true if they were receiving money for their patients’ organs but that is illegal in the US and hopefully would be unethical among all the physicians. A transplant physician can’t be treating a potential donor as this will cause a major conflict of interest.
Once a patient is declared brain dead, the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO: regional organism mandated by the government to manage donors) come into play and will make contact with the family. If the potential donor has signed the registry, they don’t have to ask for permission to the family; the patient becomes automatically a donor. This is why it is important to talk to your loved ones about your intention regarding becoming an organ donor. SIGNING YOUR ORGAN DONATION CARD IS LEGALLY BINDING.
The coordinator from the OPO will have to interview the family or friends in order to get the most accurate social and medical history possible so transplant centers can make an informed decision about the quality of the organs for their recipients. The extent of the truth about a medical/social history for a donor is not known for the simple reason that who really knows you well enough to be able to tell everything to the coordinator. This is why blood tests are performed. It is to look for transmissible diseases like hepatitis B and HIV. All the information collected by the OPO will be made available to the transplant centers. Rest assure, nothing that could help identify a donor will be shared with the transplant recipient or its family. Patient confidentiality is the main element of trust for the system to work. Once a transplant center reviews a donor and is satisfied about the match, the transplant can proceed hopefully for a successful outcome.
In a different post I will tell you why I unsigned my donation card despite wanting to become a donor if I were to become brain dead.