There is a Boy: Why People Refuse to Become Registered Organ Donors

There is a Boy: Why People Refuse to Become Registered Organ Donors Somewhere, there is a boy. He is a bright, energetic, intellectual human being and is loved dearly by a great many. But he has needed a lung transplant for too long, and although his parents may have put his name on the organ waiting list, a compatible donation has not been able to reach him. At this very moment, he is dying.

Deaths like that of this boy can easily be prevented, however, through the simple task of registering to become an organ donor. It not only saves lives, but it is quick and easy to do as well. So why is the supply of organs so scarce, while the demand is so unbelievably high? Why do so many people die every day because an organ didn’t get to them in time? More importantly, why would a perfectly healthy person, without giving logical reason for his or her decision, refuse to become a donor? Essentially, there are three different answers to these questions—fear, ignorance, and the natural selfishness of human nature—that can easily be quelled by means of better education and understanding of organ donations and transplants.

Fear can be stemmed from so many different things that it’s mind-boggling, but in this case there is only a couple that are worth mentioning and should be focused on at this time: influence of the media and misconceptions.

Television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER” portray medical horror stories with every smash-hit episode that airs. The suspense in the OR as well as the cheesy love stories between characters pulls viewers in and leaves them hanging on the edge of their seats at the end of each episode to assure that they will all watch the next one. It is also common knowledge to many viewers that most, if not all, of the ideas for these shows regarding health and operation are “ripped from headlines”, meaning that they were based off of true stories of medical disaster. The episodes involving organ donation and/or transplant gone wrong are what push viewers away from becoming a registered donor. What these viewers don’t realize, however, is that these stories have been dramatized for ratings, and the chance of surgery occurring as it does in the shows is slim.

However, true stories on shows like “48 Hours” and “60 Minutes” are not much help. They tend to find the worst, rarest, most terrifying story of organ mix-ups possible and broadcast it on international television for the entire world to see. Fearing that this may happen to them, potential donors decide against registration. That’s also not to mention the fear of death that plagues so many human lives today, and these shows are only making matters worse for those in need of a donation.

Misconceptions of organ donations are not difficult to clear up, but because the truth is not well publicized, millions of potential donors live in doubt and refuse to register. One of the most common misconceptions (and probably the most fear-inducing as well) is the belief that, if one is a registered organ donor whose life is on the line, a doctor’s decision to perform the necessary operations for ensured survival will be swayed. In truth, however, “emergency personnel are not involved in the donation process [and]… Your status as a donor is not considered until everything has been done to save your life and death has been declared,” says Kent Holloway, CEO of Lifeline of Ohio.

Other common myths are such that an open casket funeral cannot be held after donating organs and religious beliefs prevent people from registering. The reality is that donation does nothing to outwardly mutilate one’s body, and thus an open casket funeral is indeed possible. In addition, all major religions support donation. Therefore, religious beliefs are no excuse to refuse registration (Tribune Editorial Board).

The misconceptions listed in the latter paragraph, in addition to questions on ethics of organ donation, also attribute to the ignorance factor of this metaphorical equation. However, many potential donors do not realize that most ethical questions about organ donations have been answered since the idea was first proposed or at least since 1997 (Price). And according to Austin Cline, who through thorough research has gained a significant amount of knowledge on the ethics of organ donation, claimed that “…there seems to be little reason to question the ethics behind transplanting organs.” About the remaining unanswered questions, he has this to say:

"There are always fewer donors than there are potential recipients and that’s why some 5,000 people die every year while waiting for new organs.…What we are dealing with, and what we should not forget, is that this is a discussion about life and death—who lives, who dies, and why. There are real people out there who are suffering, and decisions about the ethics of organ transplants will have a tremendous impact upon them…," (Cline)

There is a simple solution to this fear and ignorance if doctors want to save lives via organ transplants and donations. They must spread this information to the public using any means possible—television, radio, internet, whatever—and make sure that human beings know the truth about organ donations.

And finally, the natural selfishness of human nature only adds fuel to the fire that is the lack of potential organ donors.

Research has proven that people are more likely to donate organs if receiving payment. Scott Halpern, one of the authors of the study that proves this fact, says that the study was “designed to determine… how potential donors are impacted by payments…” (Lackey). According to the study, when offered payment for organ donations, the number of donors nearly doubled. Payment would decrease the scarcity of organ donations, but this study only goes to show how selfish human beings are by nature. Lainie Ross, who works as an associate director in the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, says:

"Fewer than 100 people give living kidney donations to strangers each year…but up to 30% of respondents in the study said they would donate to someone they didn’t know even without payment. This inconsistency…means participants said what they thought they should say, not what they would do in a real-world situation...," (Lackey)

In addition, people in general tend to reach out to others only after their lives or the lives of their loved ones have been threatened. Such is the story of Ben and Carol Cooksey, who have become avid donors to charities supporting autism only after their eleven-year-old son was diagnosed with autism himself (Staff).

In conclusion, there are only three reasons why any given person with healthy organs might refuse to become an organ donor (fear, ignorance, and selfishness). All three of these reasons can be suppressed or taken care of in some other way. To increase the number of organ donors, people who have authority over these matters discussed must do something about the situation, and fast.

Because somewhere, there is a boy, and he is dying.


Cline, Austin. "Ethics of Organ Transplants." The New York Times Company, n.d. Web. 30 April 2010.

Holloway, Kent. "Organ donors are heroes who save countless lives." Ironton Tribune 23 April 2009, Web. 30 April 2010.

Lackey, Katharine. "Study: People would donate kidneys for payment." USA Today 31 Mar. 2010: A3. Web. 30 April 2010.

Price, David P T. "Organ transplant initiatives: The twilight zone." Journal of Medical Ethics. 23.3 (1997): 170-76. Web. 30 April 2010.

Staff. "Average Joes can be benefactors, too." Ironton Tribune 2 June 2008, Web. 30 April 2010.

Tribune Editorial Board. "Organ donors saving lives." Ironton Tribune 13 April 2010, Web. 30 April 2010.

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