Myths, Misconceptions and the Reality of Organ Donation

Dr. Muneet Sahi, Dr. Hemal Kanvinde and Ms. S. Kavitha

 

One of the reasons for the donor shortage in this country is the many myths and misconceptions clouding the issue, particularly among those who have not personally encountered transplant recipients or family members of donors. Rumours, myths and misunderstandings about organ donation and transplantation are widespread. A recent survey conducted by a national newspaper showed that 28 % of a total of 641 urban respondents believed that organ donors will not receive any life saving treatment while 18% believed that their body will be mutilated (TOI 30th July, 2013).

 

These misconceptions deter people from becoming donors. Many lives can be saved by organ transplants, but there is a severe shortage of donors.   It is important to explore all the avenues and remove the stumbling blocks so that prospective donors feel at ease when making a decision to pledge.

 

Some of the myths listed below have a corresponding reality check that we need to be aware of:

 

Myth: Organ donation is not necessary in India

Reality
: Unofficial statistics from India indicate that there are nearly 300 deaths every day due to organ failure. That is more than one lakh deaths per year.  India needs organ donors.

 

Of the 9.5 million deaths in India every year, at least one lakh are believed to be potential donors; however less than 200 actually become donors. The remaining nearly 99, 800 are lost. At any given time any major city in the country would have 8 to 10 brain deaths in the various ICUs of the city.  The conversion of these brain dead patients into donors would take care of the long waitlist of end stage organ failure patients.  Organ donation after death is one simple act that does not hurt anyone. There are many people who could use our organs after death.

 

Becoming an organ donor takes less than 2 minutes. You can sign up for the donor card by clicking on the following link: http://www.mohanfoundation.org/download_donorcard.asp

 

Myth: If I agree to donate my organs, the hospital staff won’t work hard to save my life

Reality: When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life – not somebody else’s. You’ll be seen by a doctor whose speciality most closely matches your particular situation. The doctor in charge of your care has nothing to do with transplantation.

 

Myth: Brain death and coma means one and the same

Reality: Brain death and coma are completely different. Coma patients are not brain dead at all.  Patients in coma are therefore alive as you and me and will not be considered for organ donation at all. Coma is a reversible state while brain death is an irreversible state.

 

Brain death means death. The main causes of brain death are tumor in the brain, trauma and intra-cerebral haemorrhage. The brain stem which is at the base of our brain stops functioning.  This means that the person cannot breathe and his heart will stop beating. The brain stem death is absolute and infallible. The patient is being maintained on a ventilator support.

 

Myth: I have always understood that when an individual dies, the heart stops beating. Since my loved one’s heart is beating, he is still alive.

Reality: The heart has its own pacemaker independent of the brain. As long as it has oxygen, it continues to beat. The heart could actually be removed from the body, placed in a saline solution, given oxygen, and it will continue to beat for a few minutes. But remember, this is only for a short time. Eventually, the heart will stop, despite being on maximum life support machines.

Myth: My religion discourages organ donation:

Reality
: There are 22 major religions in the world, none of which discourages organ donation. Being a very noble act by which one human can provide life to another most religions support organ donation. In fact we find deceased donors from all religions. Most major religions in India support organ donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others.

Myth: I’m too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.

Reality: There’s no defined cut off age for donating organs. Organs have been successfully transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s. The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age.

 

Myth: When you're waiting for a transplant, you’re financial or celebrity status is as important as your medical status.

Reality: When you are on the transplant waiting list for an organ, what really counts is the severity of your illness, time spent waiting, blood type, and other important medical information. Your income and social status have no bearing when determining how organs are allocated. All patients are equal in an organ waiting list.

 

Myth: If you agree to donate your organs, your family will be charged for the costs of retrieval.

Reality: There is no cost to the donor's family for organ and tissue donation. Funeral costs remain the responsibility of the family.

 

Myth: I am an organ recipient I cannot be a donor.

Reality: Organ recipients may not be tissue donors due to the immunosuppressive drugs that are administered. However, the medical team determines whether a healthy organ can be retrieved.

 

Myth: Organ/tissue removal will disfigure the body and affect cremation/burial arrangements.

Reality: The removal of organs or tissues will not interfere with customary funeral or burial arrangements. The appearance of the body is not altered.  A highly skilled surgical transplant team removes the organs and tissues which can be transplanted in other patients.  Surgeons suture up the body carefully, hence no outward disfigurement is visible. A scar is present after the organs are removed. In fact in a medico-legal case even a post-mortem would leave behind a similar scar.

 

Myth: If I donate my organs it will cause delays to my funeral arrangements

Reality: Yes there is a possibility. However, given the altruistic nature of the donation, families usually accept this and take it as part of the process of donation.

 

Myth: It is enough if I have a donor card

Reality: No.  Just having a donor card is not enough. You need to carry it at all times and also inform your relatives about your wish to donate your organs so that they give consent for donation when the circumstance arises. Becoming an organ donor takes less than 2 minutes. You can sign up for the donor card @ http://www.mohanfoundation.org/download_donorcard.asp

 

Myth: Once I become an organ donor I can never change my mind

Reality: You always have the option to change your mind. You can withdraw your registration by informing the registry, tear up your organ donor card and let your family know that you have changed your mind.

Being an organ donor can make a big difference not just to one person. By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. And many families say that knowing that their loved one has helped save other lives has helped them cope with their loss.