I think of myself as a helper. As an adult I chose to become a social worker, and I’ve spent most of my professional life working with homeless youth, substance-using women living in poverty, and children with mental health issues. It’s important to me to give back and be of help to others. That’s not to say that I’m a door mat (anyone who knows me would laugh at the idea!), but looking out for others is definitely one of my core values. I do my best to pass along those values to my kids too, whatever they decide to become when they grow up.
In line with my values, I’ve discussed with my family the very last thing I can do to help others. The beauty of this final gift is that it doesn’t cost a dime, yet it has the power to save up to 8 lives and enhance the lives of up to 75 other people, along with all their family members and friends. Of course I’m talking about organ and tissue donation.
My family and I are fortunate to be in good health. None of us is waiting for an organ transplant. I am not sitting in a hospital, waiting for a stranger to die so my child or spouse can live. But so many families are in that position. If I can help, why wouldn’t I? (But did you know that in certain cases like liver and kidney transplants, you can also be a living donor?)
I understand that this is an uncomfortable topic. Nobody likes thinking about death and dying, but it happens to everyone and we’re all grown ups here. As parents we make “in case of” plans all the time. I leave a warm blanket in the car all winter and always bring coats just in case, even if I’m only running a quick errand. Even though it’s not the most cheerful topic, my husband and I have discussed and planned for who would care for our kids in case something terrible happened to us. Well, organ donation isn’t any different.
I can’t take my organs with me, so why wouldn’t I make plans now for how I can pass them along when I don’t need them anymore? I consider this a gift to my own family too. When my time comes and if I am able to donate my organs and/or tissue, I hope that it helps my family even a little to know that a small part of me is continuing on and helping others to live.
How to Register as an Organ Donor
When I first got my driver’s license, there was a sticker you could put on your license. Other places have donor cards you can keep in your wallet. But it’s important to know that’s not enough. You need to be registered. The vast majority of us agree that organ and tissue donation is a good thing, but less than a quarter of us are registered organ donors even though it’s so easy to do. Everything is online now, no need to fill out paper forms or mail them in. See the links below to find out where to register.
The most important thing though, is to talk about organ donation with your family and make sure they understand your wishes. Even if you are a registered organ donor, your family will be consulted at the time of your death and they must still agree. Somewhere around 10% of organ donations are vetoed by family members, even when the deceased has registered as a donor. What a tragic waste!
Make sure your wishes are known, and if for any reason you think they won’t be respected at a time you can’t speak for yourself, look into preparing an end-of-life directive document or getting a power of attorney for someone who will make sure your wishes are carried through.
Use these links to check your donor status or to register as a donor:
United Kingdom – NHS Organ Donor Register
Australia – Organ Donor Register