On average, 20 people die while waiting for an organ to become available. As of October 2018, 114,565 people are on the national transplant waiting list, yet only 56 percent of Americans are registered to become organ donors.
Why is that? There is a host of misconceptions surrounding the act of organ donation, leading many Americans to fail to register as potential donors. Here, Health Matters separates fact from fiction based on information provided by LiveOnNY, a federally designated organ procurement organization dedicated to the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant in the greater New York metropolitan area.
1. MYTH: “I can be an organ donor only if I’m deceased.”
FACT: In addition to deceased donors, living donors can also save lives. It’s possible for a living person to donate a kidney, a portion of the liver, a portion of a lung, and, in rare instances, a portion of the intestines and pancreas.
2. MYTH: “There are enough organs available in New York. I don’t need to become a registered organ donor.”
FACT: Only 33 percent of state residents are registered organ donors — in comparison, nationwide the average is 56 percent. This statistic, coupled with the fact that every 18 hours someone in New York State dies waiting for an organ, helps explain why there aren’t enough organs donated to meet the needs of patients.
3. MYTH: “I can donate only to someone I know or a family member.”
FACT: You can, in fact, donate to a stranger, family member, or friend. It’s also possible to donate an organ to a person from another racial or ethnic group.
4. MYTH: “I’m too young/old to donate my organs.”
FACT: Although you must be 16 years old to sign up on the New York State Donate Life Registry, age isn’t a factor in all donations. Organs have been transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s, and even 90-year-olds have donated their livers in the United States.
5. MYTH: “I’m too sick and have too many health problems to become an organ donor.”
FACT: Very few medical conditions disqualify you from donating organs and tissues. While certain organs may not be suitable for transplant, other organs and tissues may be fine.
6. MYTH: “It’s against my religion to donate.”
FACT: Most major religions publicly endorse organ donation as the highest gesture of humanitarianism, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, and most branches of Judaism. Within a religion, however, there might be different schools of thought. Consult with your religious adviser if you have doubts or questions.
7. MYTH: “If I’m facing a life-or-death situation, doctors won’t try as hard to save my life.”
FACT: Medical professionals caring for a patient do everything possible to save a patient’s life and have nothing to do with transplants or organ donations. If a patient becomes a potential organ donor, a separate team will discuss this option with the patient’s family.
8. MYTH: “Only those who are wealthy or celebrities receive organ transplants.”
FACT: The organ transplant waiting list is blind to wealth and celebrity status. People receive organs based on the severity of the illness, time spent on the waiting list, and blood type.
9. MYTH: “Being a registered organ donor will interfere with being buried after I or a loved one dies.”
FACT: Organ donation will not delay funeral arrangements or change any funeral plans. Additionally, open-casket viewing is possible after any type of donation.
10. MYTH: “It’s difficult to become a registered organ donor in New York State.”
FACT: There are several quick and easy ways to become both a deceased and living organ donor in New York:
The ABCs of Donor Registration
• Check off the donor box on your driver’s license application or renewal form.
• Register online at LongLiveNY.org.
• Sign up when you register to vote.
• Enroll when you apply for a NYC Municipal ID.
• Register when signing up for health insurance on the New York State Health Benefit Exchange. During insurance enrollment, residents will be asked, “Would you like to be added to the Donate Life Registry?”
NewYork-Presbyterian performs living donor kidney and liver transplants at both its Weill Cornell Medical Center and Columbia University Irving Medical Center campuses.
To learn more, please visit: nyp.org/transplant.