published Monday, June 17th, 2013

Smith: BE PRO LIFE: Be prepared to donate your organs

By Robin Smith
  • photo
    Robin Smith, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and congressional candidate.
    File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press

A 10-year-old child has been fighting for her life.

The attention drawn to the case of Sarah Murnaghan has been because of her critical condition and the policy that separates adults and children in receiving donor organs. While the process governing organ transplantation has been questioned in her battle with cystic fibrosis, the solution lies in addressing supply and demand.

The real issue is the lack of donors.

Sarah got a lung transplant last week, but only after a judge ordered her to be put on the waiting list with adults.

Every 10 minutes, a new name is added to the national organ transplant list. Every day, an average of 18 patients die waiting for a compatible organ with almost 120,000 children, men and women currently seeking organ transplantation. In 2012, there were 14,013 individuals who, upon their death, “gave life” through organ donation to needy recipients.

In 2012, mortality in the United States exceeded 2.5 million.

Granted, not every person who dies is a candidate to be a donor, but the number who identify themselves as organ donors is embarrassingly low compared to the number of people who die.

Sadly, of Americans surveyed, 90 percent support organ donation, 30 percent know the steps through which to go to become a donor, but only 18 percent of the U.S. population has indicated a willingness to be a donor.

The process is not difficult. First, designate your wishes on the back of your driver’s license. Notify members of your family, your health care provider, and include your decision in your will, a living will or any other end-of-life directives.

Each state has a very simple online registry at, the first point of reference checked upon one’s departure from this life. If one’s name is not included on a state registry indicating personal consent, the deceased’s legal representative — is consulted.

A few misconceptions exist around organ and tissue donation that prevent many from signing up. As a critical-care nurse working in a university transplant program, I heard all sorts of yarns and twists.

Myth: If you’re really sick, they’ll harvest your organs.

When you’re a patient in the hospital, even under the most dire, traumatic circumstances, the priority is to save your life and restore your health. Organ donation is considered only after one is deceased. Whether you identify yourself as an organ donor or not has no bearing on the personal health care you receive as a patient.

Myth: When I die, I have to be buried whole to be complete in the afterlife.

All major religions in the United States support organ and tissue donation. Victims of major trauma in fires, violent natural disasters and time of war are not excluded from a complete after-life. Further, an open-casket memorial remains a choice of the family for the donor and his/her family.

Myth: It’s pointless to be a donor. You have to be a celebrity or rich to be a recipient.

The factors that determine the recipients for available organs are: blood type, tissue type, height, weight, length of time the patient has been waiting, the severity of the patient’s illness and the distance between donor and recipient hospitals. The list does not reference race, gender, income or social status.

Myth: Our family is not going to pay for someone else’s need.

There is no expense to the donor family. The cost is included in the care of the recipient who ultimately receives the transplant.

Our prayers remain with Sarah Murnaghan and her family, along with the hundreds of thousands awaiting a donor. My prayer is that more will become organ donors, an act of love and generosity that truly is selfless and pro-life.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009. She is a partner in the Smith, Waterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm.

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jjmez said...

By the way, I am a registered organ donor, but the medical profession also needs to become more vigilant on this matter to make sure the donors really are dead and with no chance of recovery:

consider this:

discover magazine:

__The Beating Heart Donors_____


In 1968, thirteen men gathered at the Harvard Medical School to virtually undo 5,000 years of the study of death. In a three-month period, the Harvard committee (full name: the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death) hammered out a simple set of criteria that today allows doctors to declare a person dead in less time than it takes to get a decent eye exam. A good deal of medical language was used, but in the end the committee’s criteria switched the debate from biology to philosophy. Before many years went by, it became accepted by most of the medical establishment that death wasn’t defined by a heart that could not be restarted, or lungs that could not breathe. No, you were considered dead when you suffered a loss of personhood.

Anesthesiologists have been at the forefront of questioning the finality of brain death and whether beating-heart cadavers truly are unfeeling, unaware corpses. They have also begun wondering about what a “pretty dead” donor may experience during a three- to five-hour harvest sans anesthetic, and they are speaking out on the subject.

In one, an anesthesiologist administered a drug to a BHC to treat an episode of tachycardia during a harvest. The donor began to breathe spontaneously just as the surgeon removed his liver. The anesthesiologist reviewed the donor’s chart and found that he had gasped at the end of an apnea test, but a neurosurgeon had declared him dead anyway.

In another case, a 30-year-old patient with severe head trauma was declared brain dead by two doctors. Preparations were made to excise his organs. The on-call anesthesiologist noted that the beating-heart cadaver was breathing spontaneously, but the declaring physicians said that because he was not going to recover he could be declared dead.

June 17, 2013 at 3:13 a.m.
SaraB said...

Just signed my driver's license after learning more. Thanks to paper for something of value.

June 17, 2013 at 8:51 a.m.
Easy123 said...

Everyone should be an organ donor and/or donate blood. Those two small decisions can save countless lives.

June 17, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Allow those who wish to sell an organ to do so.

June 17, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.
Easy123 said...


I've always wondered why it is legal to be compensated for donating fluids (blood, sperm), children (adoption) or your womb (surrogacy), but consciously choosing to remove an organ (probably a kidney) for compensation is illegal.

Too invasive? Masturbation, draining your own blood, and "selling" children or your uterus is more acceptable, I guess.

June 17, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.
jjmez said...

re: Easy123 said... Everyone should be an organ donor and/or donate blood. Those two small decisions can save countless lives.

I agree. However, there needs to be greater oversight to prevent organ harvesting, specifically, from slipping over into the darker side. Harvesting body organs is a very profitable business. Rarely or never has their been a purposely killing to extract someone's blood, unless it was a vampire doing the killing. However, individuals have been killed for their body organs. Or, as in other countries where the selling of organs has already slipped into the darker side, people have awaken to discover a body organ missing. That body organ may get sold on a world market.

There's no guarantee an individual with a chance of survival won't be harvested for harvested for their organs instead.

I've been a registered organ donor for well over 20 years.

June 17, 2013 at 12:18 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

The best way to future black markets and close existing black markets in organ transfers is to create an open market.

This is where owners of their bodies can sell what they want to sell and for whatever reasons the owner chooses, keeping religious and government meddling out of the transaction.

June 17, 2013 at 1:49 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

First line of previous post should read "The best way to STOP future black markets . . .

June 17, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.
jjmez said...

There are shady people in the medical profession just as there are shady auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians and lawyers. What's to stop a shady doctor from doing away with then harvesting the organs of one of his healthier poorer patients to transplant to one of his wealthier, sicker patients, for a few million offered under the table?

There are stories that Hitler's physicians removed body organs from healthier patients while under anesthesia for minor surgeries.

June 17, 2013 at 2:56 p.m.
SaraB said...

Since a former transplant nurse wrote the article, jjmez, what is your experience in health care and organ transplantation?

June 17, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.
jjmez said...

SaraB, what does being a "former transplant nurse" have to do with the reality of the potential for abuse? The article (actually just an opinion) could have just as well been written by a shady doctor? What experience I or anyone has in organ transplant is irrelevant. Did you even bother to read the article by Discover Magazine? A very reputable magazine? Or the observation of the Anesthesiologists who've participated in organ transplants, their concerns for the potential that persons declared dead, in some cases, maybe feeling pain, and their attempts to raise the alarm over the years? Would you want you or one of your family members to be one of those Beating Heart Donors possibly feeling the pain of a 4 or 5 hour organ removal? Do you understand the important role Anesthesiologists play during surgical operations? They not only administer the meds to keep a patient under, they also monitor pain levels to determine if a patient may awaken during surgery, or if a patent's heart stops or if the patient stops breathing.

The point is, if this is going on, has been going on, there needs to be more oversight. What level of experience I have compared to the writer of the opinion (not an actual article)is, again, irrelevant.

June 17, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.
SaraB said...

The reality of the potential for abuse. I'll keep my newly signed drivers license as a sign that I don't want to be in a vegetable state and give my organs to others after I have no use.

I read the article. While I am in no way a health care professional, I understood it to mean that once a patient is declared brain dead with consent to provide organs, efforts have been made to keep them in the best condition. But it's after consent and that there is no brain activity.

So, if you want to personally live in a nursing home on a ventilator sucking up your family's money brain dead, that's your opinion. But please don't criticize a system that's already suffering from lack of donors. I do not believe anyone is targeted for their organs when they come into a hospital for care.

June 17, 2013 at 6:28 p.m.
jjmez said...

SaraB said: * /I'll keep my newly signed drivers license as a sign that I don't want to be in a vegetable state and give my organs to others after I have no use.

Good for you! But what does any of that have to do with being a Beating Heart Donot and the potential for abuse? Yours is a newly signed donor license. Mine has been for over 20years, and I don't plan on changing that either. But neither should an individual be allowed to suffer unnecessarily while having their organs remove, regardless if they'll never likely regain consciousness or not. I don't think any organ recipient would want someone to suffer unnecessarily just so they can have their organs. And when there's trauma in the removal that trauma can possibly be transplanted into the recipient of an organ.

June 17, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.
SaraB said...

I'll watch for your signed letter to the editor accusing doctors and nurses of murder and greed. I'll also watch for your stance on the abortion industry.
Glad I'm 23 years old and still hopeful.

June 17, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.
jjmez said...

Being 23, it's good to be hopeful, but no excuse for being naïve. Remember you used the term murder. I speak for the potential for abuse at the very most, misinterpretation at the very least and perhaps a revisit and update to that old 1968 study that determined how and when life ends should be reevaluated.

June 17, 2013 at 7 p.m.
SaraB said...

I don't believe it's naive to make an informed decision (I actually read other articles after yours that debunk your claims). I also went to the state registry that addressed many of these myths.

I was pretty satisified reading about neurological physician standards that require "a battery" of tests. I could be wrong, but it seems there's been a great deal of thought and effort put into this with specifics in publications by medical professionals.

Just not cynical.

June 17, 2013 at 7:19 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Over time, people become lax, and don't always follow the rules written on paper. Add the potential of pressure to make things work and you create the perfect storm.

June 18, 2013 at 10:42 a.m.
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