Myths Inhibit Organ Donors, Kill People
Sometimes on WordPress, the formatting goes berserk. It did in this post and I apologize for the variances in print style but it was beyond my control.
Some of the greatest barriers to organ donation are urban myths and there are hundreds of them. Primary among them, though, is the tale that doctors will let you die so they can recover your organs. This lie seems to have risen from a single unresolved case in a California hospital in 2006. Before we get to that, though, here are two examples of how this myth manifests itself into supposedly true stories thereby preventing people from becoming organ donors.
- “My wife does not want me to be an organ donor because a few of her friends (who “just so happen to be ER nurses”) claim that when an organ donor is in a life & death situation on the table, doctors will not try and save them so that their organs may be used. This sounds like it defeats the purpose; letting one die so another can live. But, she swears that it’s true.”
- “I heard that having the pink organ donor ticket on your driver license will cause the Paramedics to allow you to die in order to harvest your organs. The rumor claims that due to the long list of people on the organ waiting list, the Paramedics are instructed to allow organ donors to die.”
First and foremost it is important to note that the medical team treating you in a hospital or ER is completely separate from the transplant team. The organ procurement organization (OPO) is not notified until all lifesaving efforts have failed and brain death has been determined by certified neurologists. The OPO does not even notify the transplant team of organ availability until the donor’s family has consented to donation.
Snopes.com, a wonderful source for dispelling myths, rumors and outright lies offers a concise and accurate explanation (http://www.snopes.com/medical/emergent/donor.asp) I encourage you to click on the link and read the entire entry but here are some of the more salient points.
“While the rumor would appear to confirm the belief that physicians involved in harvesting organs will happily sacrifice one patient in their efforts to secure parts for others, such belief overlooks one particular facet of this conjecture: Doctors who fail to provide their best medical care to their patients can and will be sued. As professional healers, they are held to a higher legal “standard of care” than is the average person and thus aren’t afforded the luxury in life or death situations of not attempting to do all in their power to save those whose lives hang in the balance. Additionally, in those instances where patients died, doctors who did decide to scale back care could well be charged with homicide.”
So you might ask, “How did this rumor get started?” Again, according to Snopes:
“The rumor about organ-hungry doctors prematurely offing potential donors gained an unfortunate shot in the arm from a 2006 case in San Luis Obispo, California. Ruben Navarro, a 25-year-old man who suffered from the neurological disorder adrenoleukodystrophy as a child (by his early 20s his mental and physical condition had deteriorated to a point where he was placed in an assisted-care facility), was admitted lifeless and unresponsive to the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center on 29 January 2006. His organs were subsequently retrieved for transplant five days later. (Those transplants, by the way, never took place because Navarro survived for more than seven hours after he was removed from life support and was given certain drugs, so his organs had deteriorated too much to be usable.)
Prosecutors have charged Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh, the surgeon who removed Navarro’s organs, with felony counts of dependent adult abuse, mingling a harmful substance (Betadine) and prescribing a controlled substance (morphine and Ativan) without medical purpose. It is their assertion that rather than allow Navarro to die naturally, the doctor knowingly hastened the process by introducing into him excessive amounts of narcotic painkillers and sedatives for the express purpose of killing him. The doctor is also said to have administered the antiseptic Betadine through a feeding tube into Navarro’s stomach while Navarro was still viable, a sterilization procedure typically done after a donor is dead (since it’s likely to kill the living).
Roozrokh’s attorney says Navarro “was going to die shortly, whether in minutes or in hours” and said of the excessive painkillers used that “In that situation, you err on the side of ensuring that he’s pain-free.” Over-medicating the dying with morphine is not at all a new practice; terminal patients are sometimes given unusually high or overly-frequent doses of the drug in an effort (generally unstated but also generally understood by both medical staff and family members in attendance) to help the dying slip through death’s door a bit more quickly and thus terminate sufferers’ torments sooner. Such practice is generally roundly denied when spoken of openly, however.
Dr. Roozrokh continues to practice, pending the verdict in his case.”
If you would like comprehensive information on other organ donation/transplantation myths please visit http://www.iaod.org/myths-organ-donation.htm
Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be a donor you may have saved or affected over 50 lives.
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