The gifting life

Dispelling misinformation about organ donors

Queen’s Gives the Gift of 8 took place Oct. 19 to Nov. 16.
Queen’s Gives the Gift of 8 took place Oct. 19 to Nov. 16.
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Often overshadowed by other charitable initiatives, organ donation is a particularly worthwhile cause and an act that doesn’t receive as much recognition as it warrants. The recent university-wide Queen’s Gives the Gift of 8 campaign which encourages students to become listed as organ donors, helped raise awareness and spark conversation on the important issue of organ donation.

I thought the campaign was tremendously well executed, demonstrating sensitivity on the issue’s delicate nature while also strongly promoting its powerful potential. In educating many students about the practice’s details, I feel the campaign addressed many of the common misconceptions and myths that surround organ donation.

By becoming a donor, you’re able to one day save or enhance the lives of up to eight other people, according to the provincial website for the campaign. Partially due to its opt-in policy on organ donation, Canada has one of the worst organ donor rates in the industrialized world, at just thirteen donors per million people.

While the Queen’s campaign succeeded in inspiring over 1,600 students to register as donors during the month of November; in discussing the project with friends, I noticed that many still held reservations about signing up.

Most of the hesitancy on the issue may stem from either misinformation or ignorance on the process. For instance, some people I spoke to were under the impression that, in registering, they would be committing themselves to bestowing their body parts while they were still alive, which is simply untrue.

Organ donation can only take place once someone has been declared brain dead or if their families consent to the process after cardiac death. Others may be opposed as they cringe at the idea of having surgeons poking around inside their body once they have passed. But, in an appeal to pragmatism I urge them to consider the matter more thoughtfully. Once you’ve died, you have no sensation as to whether your organs are being used to save someone’s life or to feed livestock on a farm. To objectively judge the issue, you must detach yourself from the mental imagery it conjures.

Abstaining from organ donation based on any gruesome imagery you may have in your mind isn’t a practical approach to the issue and shouldn’t be a factor in the decision to donate.

This line typically provokes the objection that organ donation will likely render the donor’s body mangled and worthless, preventing family from celebrating the deceased’s life in traditional ways. In fact, the operations required to remove almost all organs leave the body presentable enough for an open casket funeral and traditional burial ceremony.

Another common misconception is that organ donation defies the principles of many faiths, particularly because it may contradict the appropriate spiritual treatment of the body.

This too is incorrect — organ donation is accepted by practically all major religions, on the condition that the donor is certainly dead before organs are removed and has provided consent.

The Roman Catholic Church recently reaffirmed its position on the matter, citing organ donation as an act of charity and noted the nobility in its purpose of saving another’s life. In embracing this, many religions have encouraged followers to consent to pass on their organs once they die to those in need. In fact, it’s sometimes portrayed as one of the greatest gifts a human can grant another. Pope Benedict XVI labeled organ donation an “act of love….that remains as a genuine witness of charity which knows how to look beyond death so that life always wins.”

The impact organ donation can have on the lives of others can’t be understated. This sentiment is underscored when we consider that last year over 300 Canadians died waiting for an organ transplant, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Even in countries like the US, the discrepancy between the number of donors and those in need has been described as a crisis.

We spend our entire lives trying to make something of ourselves, taking it upon us as a responsibility to prove our usefulness and actively contribute to our communities: I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue to be useful once we die.

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