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Needed: Organ Donors

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July 3, 2001 -- Families of potential organ donors are more likely to consent to organ donation if they better understanding who is eligible to donate and how the organ donation process works. It also helps to have a clear understanding of the potential donor's wishes, report researchers in the July 4 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

Improving public education about organ donation and thinking more about how healthcare providers and organ procurement organizations request donations from grieving families could help ease the nationwide shortage of donor organs, suggest Laura A. Siminoff, PhD, and co-researchers.

More than 75,000 Americans are waiting for a transplant -- that's a record high according to United Network for Organ Sharing, the nation's organ procurement agency. And 17 of these people die every day waiting for an organ that never shows up.

"I think it's really important for the public to stop thinking of potential donors [only] as 20-year-old motorcycle victims. They should think about the fact that these days, any relatively healthy person who dies largely of a head injury or has an injury that causes the brain to cease functioning is a potential donor," Siminoff, professor of medicine and of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, tells WebMD.

In a study of the factors that influence families' decisions to consent to or refuse organ donation from a brain-dead relative, the researchers found that families of potential donors who were white, young, and male were almost twice as likely to consent to donation as other families, as were those whose loved ones died from trauma rather than other causes.

In some ways, transplant surgery is a victim of its own success, as made evident by the statistic that the number of patients on waiting lists for solid organs, like livers, hearts, and kidneys, have increased over the last 10 years. Several studies have shown that although nearly 90% of the families of donor-eligible families are asked to donate, only about half of the families actually do so. This is in contrast to a 1993 Gallup poll, in which more than 75% of respondents said they would donate their organs if asked, the authors note.

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