If the weeks after the transplant, the donor’s family

If
you had the opportunity to save someone’s life, would you? This is the question
one must ask oneself when considering a stance on the controversial topic of
organ donation. Simply put, organ donation is defined as the “process through
which human organs are obtained for transplant surgery” (Klotzko, 2017, para.

1). In the United States alone, the number of people on the waiting list for
these life-saving transplants is over 100,000 with approximately 7,000 of those
people dying each year (Merola et al., 2016). With the help of a donor, these waitlisted
patients can receive the best gift of all—a second chance at life.  

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The
Process of Saving Lives

            There are many aspects to the organ
donation system. First, the potential donors and recipients have to meet
certain criteria to be approved to continue on in the process. The requirements
to be a donor are rather basic, meaning that as long as the benefactor is
healthy, or healthy prior to a traumatic accident that causes them to become a
deceased donor, they should have no problem being able to donate (10 Most
Notable Pros and Cons of Organ Donation, 2016). As far as getting on the
transplant list, the patient is evaluated for severe organ damage (that does
not respond to other treatment) that significantly reduces the quality of life
or the life expectancy (Baumgartner, 2017). Next, the patient is put on the
national waiting list until a match becomes available for them. After a match
is located, the organ is harvested from the donor and transplanted into the
recipient, who then begins the long road to recovery. The recipients often have
to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of their lives in order to prevent
the body from rejecting the foreign organ (Baumgartner, 2017). In the weeks
after the transplant, the donor’s family receives a letter detailing where the
organs and tissues went, as well as basic information about the recipients
(Organ Donation Process, n.d.).

Finding a Donor

            Donor organs fall into two categories: those from
living and those from deceased (where most come from). According to “What Can
Be Donated,” Deceased donors can donate: two kidneys, two lungs, a liver,
heart, pancreas, intestines, as well as hands and faces (n.d.). Living donors
can donate: one kidney, one lung, portions of the intestine, liver, or pancreas
(“What Can Be Donated,” n.d.). The problem with using deceased donor’s organs
is that there are only about 10,000 to 12,000 deaths annually that occur in
such a way for the organs to be viable for transplant, meaning a small chance
of finding a match (Espejo, 2003). The ideal organ comes from a donor with the
same blood type whose organ is similar in size to the organ it is replacing
(Baumgartner, 2017). The closer the match, the less risk for the recipient’s
body to reject the new organ. This is why it is important for as many people as
possible to be organ donors; a wider selection allows for a better chance of
finding a match.

The
Moral Controversies

One debate about the organ donation
system is the consent process. The U.S. and U.K. use a system called informed
consent, where a person can simply mark a space on their driver’s license to
indicate that they want to be an organ donor (Klotzko, 2017). According to
Klotzko, in the event that his or her organs can be harvested for donation,
doctors still require permission from the family (2017). Other countries use the
presumed consent system, meaning that doctors automatically assume that organs
can be used for transplantation (Klotzko, 2017). The latter system is a topic
of disputation because of the fact that some people who do not wish to donate
their organs will. However, the system allows for a greater supply of organs,
which is good news for those on the waiting list. The people who donate
certainly will not need their organs after death, so why not give them to those
who are in dire need of new ones?

Another issue with organ donation
is the definition of “brain death.” Patients who have no brain activity but are
otherwise healthy are considered to be brain dead and are the main source of
donor organs (Espejo, 2003). Some people consider the definition to be too
broad, which leads families to leave comatose patients on life support when
there is no hope for recovery. However, the diagnosis of brain death allows for
patients with no hope to be laid to rest and increases the amount of available
donor organs. Without this classification, the organ shortage would be even
greater than it is today with even more people dying while healthy organs are
being wasted. 

Perspectives
of Patients on the Waiting List

            A survey conducted by Merola et al. gathered
information from 225 currently waitlisted patients to understand their own willingness
to donate as well as possible barriers to donation (2016). The responses were
that “Seventy-one respondents (32%) were registered donors, while 64 patients
(28%) noted no interest in participating in donation…while 86 patients (38%) felt
their condition precluded them from donation (Merola et al., 2016, p. 1449).” The
28% statistic is rather surprising, considering the fact that so many of the
patients who could do so had no desire to donate, even though they are the ones
who are in need of a donor. This information makes one understand why there is
an increasing organ shortage every year: those who could potentially donate
life do not participate. Also, it was noted that almost half of the participants
stated misconceptions pertaining to the allocation process and few had
discussed the donation with their transplant provider (Merola et al., 2016).

These findings illustrate that there is a lack of education to inform patients
of their possibility to donate, which, if corrected, could potentially mean
more donors and more lives saved. This survey allows outsiders to better
understand the attitudes of organ donation from those who know the most about
it—those on the transplant list.

Cons

Some of the most debated cons to
the organ donation process are the prolonged suffering for both the family of
the donor and for the recipient, the possible complications, and the expense
factor (10 Most Notable Pros and Cons of Organ Donation, 2016). While it may be
difficult for the family of a donor to watch their loved one’s life be carried
on only by life support, knowing that his or her death could allow someone else
to live makes the suffering worth something and allows the donor’s legacy to
live on. As for the recipient, there is no denying that the whole process is a
stressful experience. However, waiting is a necessary action if it means having
an opportunity for the organ that will give them a second chance at life. Also,
even though there are risks for complications with these complex surgeries,
those are present with any surgical procedure and a patient has to be willing
to deal with the possibility of problems in order to have the opportunity for a
healthier life. As for the expenses involved with organ donation, it is no lie
that the surgeries and lifetime of medical are expensive. However, no one can
put a dollar amount on the value of life and to most people, being in debt is
better than the alternative of not being alive. As with any big decision, the cons
of organ donation must be considered in regards to the process as a whole.

Pros

            The pros of organ donation speak for themselves; they
all contribute to lives being saved. The most highly-regarded pros of the
process are that it: saves (up to 8) lives, offers another chance for life, brings
comfort, and provides opportunities for medical discoveries (10 Most Notable
Pros and Cons of Organ Donation, 2016). The most prominent pro of organ
donation is that it saves lives, with one person having the ability to physically
save the lives of up to eight people. Each recipient is someone’s spouse,
child, or parent, meaning that there are countless loved ones whose lives also
suffer the repercussions of someone waiting for an organ, so a donor metaphorically
“saves” their lives as well. Adding to the idea of organ donation saving lives,
it also offers the recipient a second chance at life, one that allows the
recipient to live a relatively normal life free from pain and suffering and
allows them to focus on the important parts of life. Another pro of the process
is the solace that the deed can bring to those grieving their loved one,
knowing that something someone else was able to live because of the donor’s
death. The family and friends can find consolation in the fact that a piece of
their loved one is still alive and his or her legacy will continue to live on
even after their death. The final pro is that organs donated to the medical
community are used to further research the human body. Using the donor organs,
doctors can potentially find cures and treatments for diseases, meaning that
countless more lives can be positively impacted by the act. The pros of organ
donation demonstrate the positive nature of the deed.

Conclusion

            The survival rates of these
transplants continue to increase, with the rates after one year being
approximately 90% for kidneys, 80% for hearts, and 75% for livers (Baumgartner,
2017). All in all, organ donation is an act incomparable to any other in that it
provides life for someone else. Medicine is always advancing, and if the number
of donor organs continues to increase, the future looks brighter for those
waiting on their life-saving organ.