Opt-in or Opt-out Organ Donation

There are too many people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the United States and not enough organ donors available to give people a second chance at life.

Opt In Organ Donation

As true as this is, many countries and states have entered the controversial opt-in vs. opt-out organ donor debate and no matter what side they choose, it seems that there will be many unhappy people.

The civil liberty of allowing a person to choose what happens to their body after they die has been the center of many heated debates. Some claim that there are religious implications behind their decision not to become an organ donor and there are others that believe that if they can’t take their organs to heaven, then why not share the gift of life.

Whatever the reason behind an individual’s belief on organ donation and transplantation, it is a personal choice. With that being said though, many families are not aware of their beloved’s decision to donate his or her organs before they are no longer able to voice their wishes.

So that begs the question – should the government step in and organize the process for conveying one’s wishes to donate or not donate his or her organs to another human being? Should there be a either a system for individuals to opt-in or opt-out of organ donation so that there is no confusion in the end?

Opt-in vs. Opt-out Legislation

There are two main systems for voluntary systems “opt in” (everyone who has not given consent is not a donor) and “opt out” (everyone who has not refused is a donor). In some systems, family members may be required to give consent or refusal, or may veto a potential recovery even if the donor has consented.

Under United States law, the regulation of organ donation is left to states within the limitations of the federal National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. Each state’s Uniform Anatomical Gift Act seeks to streamline the process and standardize the rules among the various states. Many states have sought to encourage the donations to be made by allowing the consent to be noted on the driver’s license. Donor registries allow for a central information center for an individuals wish to be a donor. Still, it remains a pure consent system rather than an extended consent system or even a dissent opt-out system. (Organ Donation – Wikipedia)

The controversy is clear and speaking as a wife of a double lung transplant recipient, I must admit that even I am sometimes on the fence about this. The government was not designed to be involved in such personal human decisions. We don’t need the government to help us in expressing our wishes to become an organ donor – we just need to make sure to let everyone know.

For so many years, we have been placing orange organ donor stickers on our driver’s license. This opt-in system has worked very well because it creates a bridge that hospitals can use to open the conversation about organ donation with the families upon their loved one’s death. Wisconsin has taken this one step further with their new website YesIWillWisconsin.org. This system works directly with the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure that your voice and choice are heard. Just like the orange organ donor sticker, it puts control in your hands and helps the grieving family at a very painful time during their lives.

So, if I had to choose either opt-in or opt-out organ donation registration, I would have to choose the former. It keeps you in control of your decision to become an organ donor and solidifies your decision to your family. Your family would be going through enough without having to make this decision on their own – make sure your voice is heard through an opt-in system and by telling your family your wishes today.

What are your thoughts on the opt-in vs. opt-out organ donation registration debate? How do you think either would impact those waiting for the miracle of a second chance at life?

Image courtesy of The Archer News.

After her husband received a double-lung (bilateral) transplant in 2004, Shannon founded the Angel Cove Organ Donation Awareness Shop, which provides awareness t-shirts and gifts products for transplant recipients, living organ donors and donor families - giving 100% of the profits to help heart and lung transplant recipients with medical costs. Shannon lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her wonderful husband and two chocolate Labrador Retrievers.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Dennis Flannery

    There are too many people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the United States and not enough organ donors available to give people a second chance. Many people who haven’t “Opted-in” may not even know about organ donation/transplantation. I know personally that my liver transplant saved my life. While I respect that it is a personal decision, I think that the decision should be based on reasons NOT to donate. If everyone understood to begin with that they may be a donor when their time comes we may not have such huge waiting lists of transplant candidates. Either way, the major issue is in educating the masses on the need for organ donors and what the “normal” disposition of their organs will be. I believe that people just don’t realize what a waste of an available resource is occurring when they don’t donate.

    PS: I also agree with Mr. Undis’s motivational ideas!

  • Dave Undis

    If we’re going to presume people are organ donors unless they opt out, we should also give people a reason to NOT opt out. Donated organs should be allocated first to those who haven’t opted out. People who opt out of organ donation should go to the back of the transplant waiting list. The United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the national organ allocation system, has the power to make this simple policy change. No legislative action is required.

    Americans who want to donate their organs to other registered organ donors don’t have to wait for UNOS to act. They can join LifeSharers, a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at http://www.LifeSharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will save more lives by convincing more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren’t willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

    David J. Undis
    Executive Director