Millions of American driver licenses indicate their owners are organ donors. Many people believe donating their organs is perhaps the last act they do to make life better for someone else, but there is a macabre side to this multi-million dollar business.
Things Most People Don’t Know
Certainly, checking the box on a driver’s license application to be an organ donor seems innocent enough. What the majority of Americans don’t know is once that box is checked, only they can undo it. But, why would anyone decide to no longer be an organ donor?
In 2012, Huffington Post reported on whistleblower Patrick McMahon, a former transplant coordinator for the nonprofit New York Organ Donor Network. McMahon filed a lawsuit claiming that “hospitals were pressured to harvest organs from patients who were not yet dead.”
The lawsuit stated that the federally funded nonprofit “bullied hospital staffers into prematurely declaring patients brain dead so that their organs could be taken…” In addition, the group brought in coaches to “train staff on how to persuade next of kin to sign over their relatives’ bodies…” The lawsuit also states that the organization had “an aggressive quota system to meet goals.”
Despite the organization’s insistence there was no substance to the lawsuit allegations, McMahon cited four specific cases of “questionable practices”. One of those cases involved a 19-year old car wreck victim declared brain dead. However, McMahon’s lawsuit claimed the man was “still trying to breathe and showed signs of brain activity.”
Organ Donor Organization Wins in Court
In 2013, a 21-year-old Columbus, Ohio man was in a wreck while driving his motorcycle. He was declared legally dead. Placed on life support, the young man had indicated on his driver’s license that he wished to be an organ donor. His parents weren’t aware of this fact and refused to consent to their son’s organs to be harvested. The organ donor organization, Lifeline of Ohio filed a complaint in court and won. The man’s organs were harvested against his parents’ wishes
In an article published in Anesthesiology, there were three cases given as a point of discussion about the duties of an anesthesiologist when a patient’s organs are to be harvested. Each case given revealed that the patients were not brain dead. Unfortunately, two of the patients had their organs harvested. The third case was a new mother who’d suffered seizures hours after delivery. On the day her organs were to be harvested, the anesthesiologist observed “small, reactive pupils, weak corneal reflexes, and a weak gag reflex.” Thanks to this medical professional, her life was spared and she eventually went home, although suffering from some neurological damage.
In a YouTube video posted by Anon Z, it’s stated that there is no standard test for declaring a person brain dead. The videographer explains that there is neither a legal nor statewide standard for the diagnosis of brain dead. In fact, she states that such tests vary from one hospital to the next. And, some states even allow such calls to be made by nurses and/or nurse practitioners
Some of the tests for assessing brain death can be nothing more than “squirting cold water in the patient’s ear” or seeing if the person can breathe on their own. There are several other tests used throughout the medical community. This lack of standard protocol is shocking and disturbing.
Organ Donor Organizations
Perhaps the most shocking and horrifying insight is how surgeons aren’t allowed to administer any type of anesthesia to the patient. Instead, a paralytic drug is used to paralyze the donor. The latter prevents the donor from jerking and moving during the removal of their organs.
In the YouTube video, the narrator displays a guideline used by an organ donation organization that outlines how the donation team that includes the organization’s donation coordinator, physician, nurse, social worker, chaplain and others should approach the family. The guideline describes how the team should share information about the donor and donor’s family. Together the team then comes up with a strategy to convince the family to give up their loved one’s organs.
The narrator claims that this team pressures the family into giving up their loved one’s organs. The guidebook also outlines how the hospital is to notify the organ harvesting company within one hour of the person being declared brain dead and should do so prior to notifying the family.
The Case of Jennifer Hamann
Jenny Hamann, who suffers from epilepsy was prescribed a medication (unrelated illness) that “triggered her first grand mal seizures.” She was resuscitated twice, but was left comatose. In a 2015 Life Issues Institute, Inc interview, Hamann described how she was conscious and aware of everything going on around her. As she lay motionless in the hospital bed, doctors discussed how her husband was being “unreasonable” for refusing to allow them to harvest her organs. The article states, “Doctors were eager to harvest her organs, but Jenny was not brain dead.” Three weeks later, she came out of the coma. While it took a year for her to fully recover, Hamann went on to become a nurse
Regardless what you may have seen in TV medical shows, organ donors aren’t dead when their organs are harvested. The Life Issues Institute, Inc article discussed one of the most common misconception that families have when they consent to organ donation.
Families envision they’ll be able to stay by the bedside holding their loved one’s hand until that last moment and their beloved passes away. The truth is, an organ can only be removed for transplantation while the donor is alive. An organ is not viable beyond four or five minutes once the blood flow stops. This is a very unpleasant idea for any family member. This part of organ harvesting is what many consider inhumane.
The organ harvesting procedure can take anywhere from three to six hours. The individual is kept alive during this process.
The cavities of the donor’s body are packed with sterile ice to cool the organs. Once removed, the organ is filled with a preservative that is ice cold. The organ is then packed and stored in a layering of sterile containers. These containers are then placed in an “icy slush mixture”. The organ must be transported to the transplant recipient within a certain timeframe to ensure the organ is still viable for transplantation.
Deciding to Be an Organ Donor
Organ donations have saved many lives. It’s important to understand the entire process of being an organ donor. You might not be a donor and decide you wish to be one. You may have automatically selected an organ donor designation on your driver’s license but now wish to change your status. You can’t simply let your wishes be known by telling your husband or wife that you no longer want to be an organ donor.
Depending on your state laws, you may be able to change your status by filling out a form to resend your previous designation. Most states provide this form that also allows you to order a replacement driver’s license with your new designation of an organ donor or non-donor.
Deciding to Be an Organ Donor
There is a huge shortage of organ donors worldwide and this has motivated some countries to turn to an opt-out system (presumed consent). By default, everyone is an organ donor unless they specifically register as opting out of the donor program. Not surprising, the countries that created this opt-in law saw an increase in organ donors/transplants. Currently, the United States has an opt-in system.