Donating organs is more than just checking off a box on a DMV application

I don’t know why sitting around my living room table with a glass of wine prompted a discussion of organ donations on a Thursday night, but telling my roommates I wasn’t a donor shocked them. I could not give them a clear reason as to how or why I would ever change my mind.

I thought back to that exact moment when and where I decided not to be a donor, envisioning my mother’s body in a casket at her funeral. As a lost and upset 12-year-old, all I wanted to do was hug her cold, lifeless body.

I could not imagine what it would have been like to see her body sewn up, her skin graphed or to feel rods in place of her bones. Seeing her body in a mutilated form would have scarred me for life, far worse than seeing her not alive.

I know what I’m saying sounds selfish, but experiencing my mother’s death as a young child changed everything about myself and my life from that point on. The lost experiences, the anger and the grief took a toll on my ability to face life and its continuous hardships in the months that came after her passing.

Ultimately the death of any family member can be detrimental to a person’s overall well-being if not grieved or addressed properly. At the time of our deaths, we will all have the opportunity to save the life of another if the conditions of our bodies are right, but the strains and pressures that come with organ donations are exactly what I want my family to avoid in a time of pain and grief.

I was in shock when I woke up to my father telling me that my mom had died. I didn’t know how to comprehend the fact that I would never have the chance to say goodbye.

My mother had been an organ donor up until the year she died, changing it when she renewed her license just months before her unexpected death. I’ve discussed with my father how things would have changed if my mother, a healthy 39-year-old woman who died suddenly from a heart attack, had continued to be an organ donor. If she had been registered at the time of her death, her body would have been the perfect candidate.

Simply checking the donor box when you get your license does not necessarily mean your organs will be put to use. In order for your organs to be donated, medical personnel take everything about your past into account. They look at how functional your organs are, how you died and test almost everything before they take action. This process can take a lot of time away from the family during their last moments with their loved ones.

After the organ removal procedures are completed and the body is returned to the family, many are still faced with unfathomable economic burden that can linger long after the loved one is laid to rest. The funeral and medical costs alone to try and save my mom’s life cost my father more than $30,000.

I think if there was compensation for families who sacrifice their time and effort after the death of a loved one, there would be more interest in organ donation, much like the popularity of life insurance. Knowing we won’t be leaving our families in a financial rut after our death might be the turning point for people like me to reconsider the idea of becoming an organ donor.

The Organ Transplant Act that was enacted in 1984 bans most forms of payment to living organ donors. If we bent theses rules for those that are deceased, people might be willing to compromise on both sides, those of the donor and the receiver. If the donor was compensated for their body after their death to help pay for the proceedings, receivers might not feel guilty and donors might not be as hesitant.

Registering as an organ donor is a huge decision that not only affects the donor, but the entire family. For this reason I never decided to donate. Regardless of my choice, I respect each individual who has chosen to donate, and I encourage everyone to make the choice not based off a fad or what friends do, but what he or she thinks is best for himself or herself.

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  • Don’t forget that 1/3 to 1/2 of all donors are living donors — mostly friends and family who often bear heavy financial burdens paying for non-medical out-of-pocket expenses to donate. The American Living Organ Donor Fund is there to help. The website at http://www.alodf.org or http://www.HelpLivingOrganDonorsSaveLives.org is full of valuable information, including a state by state database with lists of laws and resources relevant to living organ donors. The ALODF also provided financial assistance for qualifying living organ donors — the criteria is not income, but the availability of discretionary funding. It is the ALODF strong conviction that those who help save a life should not have to suffer financially to do so.