Organ donor: To be or not to be

Since the first successful organ transplantation in the 1960s, many questions have been raised about this subject. While physicians have had to deal with medical and scientific issues, others have raised philosophical concerns, ethical challenges, moral questions, and issues of fairness. While such debates keep the professionals occupied, an important question concerns the prospective donors: “Should I be a donor after my death? Will my organs go to those who are in real need? How is organ donation related to my practice of ethics?” These and other controversial issues demand that we give careful consideration to organ donation.

After years of struggling with organ rejection and related issues, medical researchers have found settled procedures for successful transplanting of organs. In most cases, such procedures are found to be safe and routine. But why are so few people willing to be a donor after death? Maybe they are afraid about this issue? Despite the real answer to these questions, the truth is that an increasing number of patients must wait for months or sometimes years, for an opportunity for treatment, leading to a normal life again.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 110,000 people in the United States are waitlisted transplants. Consider the need for the rest of the world: you have an enormous number of people seeking for that gift that will lengthen their lives. Without transplants in time, hundreds are deprived of life and inevitably face death. Is that death necessary? The question stares with all seriousness when the person involved is young, with a whole life ahead, but is suddenly cut off without any hope.

After some reflection on these facts, when someone wonders whether to be an organ donor, the simplest possible answer is: yes! People need to become organ donors after death. Of course, there is a great difference between being a living donor, and signing up for organ donation after death. Talking about being a living donor, we must consider each situation itself. It’s necessary to think about risks, especially for the live donor. Each situation is unique and has to be solved with good sense, after having professional help. But talking about being an organ donor after death, we think that there should be explicit reasons to help people to allow organ donation after death. Why are so few people willing? This question makes the subject even more complicated.

We live in a globalized economy, with all parts of the world trying to live with each other, market each other’s products, and contribute to the growth of all. With such inter-linked existence, is it possible for a noble cause such as organ donation fall into the clutches of greed and manipulation? Are some lives worthier than others? Is that worth defined by what that individual possesses in terms of money, power, and influence? Would such extraneous weightage lead to unworthy practices in organ donations? Is it possible to kill a person in order to get an organ that can be sold? The answer, unfortunately, is not at all pleasant. Indeed, the rise of illegal markets that sell organs and the unethical practice of harvesting organs in some parts of the world, particularly targeting underprivileged and economically deprived sectors of populations, have placed a cloud of suspicion over organ donation and transplantation. What should be an altruistic and humane activity of sharing the gift of life has the danger of being hijacked by a vicious market. This is a challenge that requires attention.

We cannot solve this problem unless we accept a higher, spiritual way. That way is found in an attitude of altruism, love and trust. Where can we find that way except as we learn to place our trust in God? God’s way demands that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we have that way, we will care for our neighbors and come to their rescue in their hour of need. It is that kind of unselfish and caring love that should be at the basis of the discussion of being an organ donor. When that altruistic love defines our thinking, and out of that experience we become an organ donor, our charity may save a life. That saving act has no price at all.

There, we have something to think about. Think of being an organ donor. Talk with your family about it. Sign up for organ donation after death, if this is necessary in your country. Never mind all the controversial questions. Think of it as an act of love, love at any cost, and love without a price tag. Who knows, I may be the one who will be on a waiting list someday. Meanwhile, I know there are hundreds who need an organ, and love propels me to be and to become a donor.

Creriane Lima, a graduate of UNASP (Adventist University in Brazil), is a language teacher, translator, writer and also a pastor’s wife. E-mail: