Against this need to comfort and be respectful comes another reality.
The demand for organs is much higher than the supply. Every 90 minutes,
someone in the U.S. dies waiting for an organ transplant.
Read more about Gift of Hope
"I was a psychology major at Wabash, and understanding
how to deal with doctors, families, and others in a stressful situation,
was certainly beneficial.
But the whole liberal arts education prepared me to do the kind of job
I do. I had to learn such a broad range of subjects, and I draw from those
Gift of Hope
by Jerry Anderson 71
In July, the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois will change its name to
The Gift of Hope. CEO Jerry Anderson 71 says its not a public
relations gambit, but an attempt to educate.
Were changing the to reflect the fact that were dealing
with people here. Giving life to another is the greatest gift of all,
and organ donation gives that gift and the hope that comes to those who
receive transplants or are waiting for transplants.
With more than 4,600 people in Illinois alone waiting for transplants,
and 16 people in the U.S. dying every day due to the shortage, education
is literally a life or death proposition.
WM asked Anderson to discuss some of the ethical issues the people
in his organization faces every day.
Anderson: The ethical issues arise the moment we talk to the family
about donation. Usually its not been a slow death. The loved one
has died of some sort of trauma, a sudden death, a cerebral bleed, or
a severe head injury.
And the family is in a traumatic situation, under tremendous stress. But
thats also a critical time for us. The donation has to be done very
quickly, and we require consent from the family.
One of the issues that arises is informed consent. We must
properly inform the family of what is going to be done, and they must
give an informed consent. So we try to educate the family about organ
and tissue donation. We make sure were describing things in a way
that makes sense to that person. Our staff is trained to avoid describing
organs and procedures in medical terms that many people wont understand.
No jargon allowed.
Even before we talk to the family, they often wonder, Did the doctors
really try to save my loved ones life, or did they just want to
get the organ? Most organ donations come from people who have been
declared brain dead. Youre talking about a person who, at the time
of brain death is on a ventilator and appears to be alive. So when theyre
being declared dead, youre looking at this person you lovetheyre
breathing, the hearts beating, and it even looks like theres
hope. But there isnt. The neurologists have done tests, theres
no blood flow to the brain. But when youre looking at this and then
you hear about organ donation, it comes to your mind that theyre
not really trying to save my loved one.
Against the need to comfort and be respectful at this difficult time comes
another reality. The demand for organs is much higher than the supply.
Every 90 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies waiting for an organ transplant
that doesnt come in time. Our staff member talking with the family
and trying to answer their questions knows that if this family says no
to donation, someone, or several people, will die. But our staff member
cant coerce the family into a decision.
Its a very difficult task, and it takes a special sort of person
to do it.
What sorts of issues arise with recipients?
One of the questions we face is: do you give the organ to the person who
is the sickest, or do you give it to the person who has the best chance
to survive? The way the system works now, it goes to the sickest patient.
The organ might be better utilized by someone who is not as sicka
person much more likely to survive. If somebody is waiting for a liver,
the longer they wait, the higher their priority on the waiting list. But
as they wait they become more ill, sometimes to the point that, even if
they get the liver, their probability of survival is less than 50 %. Someone
who isnt as sick would have a 95% chance of survival. Who do you
give it to? Right now we give it to the person who only has the 50% chance
Some patients receive multiple organ transplants. Youve got a decision
to make there: Is it better for one patient to receive two or three organs,
or do you take those two or three organs and give them to two or three
different individuals, perhaps saving two or three lives?
Who makes those decisions?
The guidelines for those types of decisions are made on a national level.
Federal regulations created an Organ Procurement Transplant Network, and
the actual organization that has that contract is UNOS (United Network
for Organ Sharing). This is a non-profit organization made up of experts
in transplantation: surgeons, ethicists, public members, organ recipients,
donor family members, people from organ procurement organizations like
us. These people review these issues and set the guidelines.
Im on committees there and have been on the board.
How do you prepare for work like this?
I was a psychology major at Wabash, and understanding how to deal with
doctors, families, and others in a stressful situation, was certainly
beneficial. But the whole liberal arts education prepared me to do the
kind of job I do. I had to learn such a broad range of subjects, and I
draw from those now. I wasnt very good in biology, but understanding
the basics is essential to my work here. Taking philosophy and learning
to think things through was important, too.
We hear people use words like harvest and procurement
when they talk about organ donation. Theres a de-humanizing aspect
to all of this.
Thats a very important issue for us. Once a month, we have people
come indonor families and recipientswho talk with us about
their experiences, to remind us whats going on. In any field you
can become distant; you could say were just dealing with parts,.
But what were really about is tying humanity together. The families
of people who die are given the opportunity to make something good come
out of a tragic lossto save a life. It may seem a small consolation
at first, but often down the road, if both parties want to meet (and this
is happening more and more often ), we give that information,. and it
brings a new meaning to life for these people.
People who receive organ transplants often feel as if theyve been
born again. They do things with their life that they wouldnt have
done before. They want to give back in some way.
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