By David Lichter
My driver’s license has one of those little orange circles in the lower right corner with the word “donor” inside it. On the back is my signature, dated May 5, 2017, with a check mark next to “All organs, tissues, and eyes.” I would not envy the person who would get my eyes, and, as I age, I am sure there is a natural elimination process that will make the harvesting shorter work. However, I just read in our local paper the obituary of a religious sister who donated her body to the Medical College of Wisconsin!
Donate for Life notes that while 95 percent of US adults support organ donations, only 54 percent are actual registered donors. Statistics show that 38 percent of people with a driver’s license choose to be a donor, but less than 1 percent of all deaths occur in a way that allow organ donations to be possible. Most of us are well aware of the statistics of how many people are on the waiting list for organs.
I am grateful that we have several very fine articles on chaplaincy and organ donations in this issue of Vision. They provide pastoral approaches, but also explain well the Catholic ethical tradition regarding organ donations and how to be with families at the time of an organ donation.
I suspect we all also know family members and friends who have thought about or have made donations. My wife, Jackie, went through the process a few years ago when her dear friend, Laurie, needed a kidney, and Jackie wanted to donate hers. But after all the testing and preparation, when the time came, Laurie could no longer physically go through the transplant procedure. She died not long ago.
Jackie continues to think about donating that kidney, and another cousin recently offered another good example, as she gave hers in a multiple organ transplant event. Our cousin documented the donation via Facebook and other social media — not for self-aggrandizement, but to share the value and ease of doing so, even though it was initially painful and kept her out of work for a few days. She feels a part of a larger giving community of donors now also.
These examples have me thinking about a growing culture of donors who have made giving organs while alive much a more acceptable and possible—even attractive—choice for people, even though it’s not yet on par with giving blood. Organdonor.gov notes that nearly 6,000 living donations happen each year, which is about four out of every ten donations. That’s a hefty percentage.
I hope this issue’s articles help all of us to speak about and encourage a culture of donations, abate the fear, and assist families in discussing the most common fears and misgivings.