Time to take that “Organ Donor” sticker off your driver’s license?

It makes me sad to say this, because I believe in organ donation, but I’ve gone to California’s Remove Me From the Registry website and taken my name off the list of organ donors.  The decision was made after watching the gradual loss of our medical system’s culture of the sanctity of human life.

I’m thinking about this right now because of a horrifying story from Central New York about a woman taken to the emergency room in 2009 for a drug overdose, who was very nearly cut up for parts, only she woke up just before they got going.

What makes this so disturbing, and what got the hospital fined (a mere) $6,000.00, is that “Although a nurse told doctors that Burns was recovering from her overdose, those same doctors pronounced her dead.”  Then they called her family and got permission to take her organs.  However, “when a nurse performed a mandatory reflex test on Burns, her toes curled downward. She appeared to be breathing independently of a hospital respirator, and her lips and tongue were said to have moved moments before doctors prepared to remove her organs”

Yet, in the face of all these indications that a serious mistake was being made, “the nurse then followed instructions to give Burns a powerful sedative, a seemingly unnecessary move if the patient were actually dead.”

Fortunately, before they began harvesting her organs, the overdose victim woke up and they called the whole thing off.   You should read the Yahoo story about this incident – it’s a cautionary tale.

I’m afraid I’m wondering how many people don’t wake up in time…..and just thinking about that induced me to make different arrangements for donating my organs.  I don’t want decisions about my life and death to be made by faceless strangers who don’t love me and who definitely have priorities other than MY well-being in mind.  So, I’ve decided to take care of a possible future when I can’t speak for myself by filling out The Will To Live, and NOT a “Living Will”, or the sort of generic “advance directives” that doctors and hospitals try to get us to sign.

I hope that you’ll at least go to the Q&A page, and see if it makes sense to you. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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Comments

  1. dahozho says

    I read that article yesterday too, Earl. My refusal to sign up as an organ donor extends back quite a few years (actually, I do not believe I have ever put that on my license). 
    The organ donation/transplant system does not work as intended.  Period.  How else would Mickey Mantle (as well as other celebrities or people with lots of money) get to the top of a transplant list?  The doctors *knew* Mantle had cancer, and YET.  Having cancer should get a patient dropped off the list.  American citizens seem to come second to illegals– California PAYS for illegal immigrants to have organ transplants, and in a Washington Post story back a couple of years (2009 maybe?) there was a woman, illegally in the US, who was *complaining* that California was not going to pay for a THIRD liver!!  (Ok, if she’s not going to care for herself properly, she gets dropped from the list, according to guidelines)  That wasn’t the only case they found.  (It being the WaPo, the reader was supposed to feel bad for the illegals.  Most of the comments, surprisingly, were outraged.)  There was a girl in NC, illegally in the US, who received a multiple organ transplant, pro bono.  She died, because they gave her organs from a donor with the WRONG blood-type!!
    Do I even need to go into the transplant programs that have been fined or shut down during the last decade?  And yes, medical personnel pressuring families during a time of extreme trauma and grief is UNACCEPTABLE.  Especially when someone may not actually be dead, and this woman *wasn’t*.  (Sadly, she succeeded in ending her life two years after this OD.)
    So, what would my position be if, G-d forbid, a family member developed a condition where a transplant was the best option for survival?  (A question I ask myself pretty much every time a transplant story hits the news, like the little girl in PA)  I don’t know.  A dear college friend might still be with us if she’d agreed to a heart transplant.  She choose not to.  A woman in Tucson fought for YEARS to be considered for a heart/lung transplant (I don’t know how that turned out).  I just don’t know.
    What I DO know is that I do not trust the current system.  At ALL.  So I decline to participate. 
    Thank you so much for the link to the Will to Live!!  I have been dismayed by my parents’ directives in this area and what they ask of me in their Living Wills.  I’ll do my best, but I will also make sure I can live with it.  I will use this for my own directives, and hopefully it will be easier for my representatives. 

  2. Caped Crusader says

    “St. Joseph’s goal is to provide the highest quality of care to every patient, every time,” Howell said in an email to The Post-Standard. The hospital works with Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network to follow strict policies and procedures for organ donation, she said.
     
    Earl, it doesn’t matter any more what you do as long as you have posted a heart warming Mission Statement and informed everyone of how guarded and precious their privacy is to the organization, and how much care is being taken by them and the government to guard this precious information, which is about to be spread over the internet and shared with thousands of other entities, all of whom are equally caring and ever vigilant. All of which is a bunch of crap.

  3. CripesSuzette says

    Reading the entire Yahoo article about this 2009 event sends up several red flags for me and prompted me to ask many questions about it – right up until I read the last two sentences  that mention “no centralized system for collecting information on hospital errors”. This is straight out of Don Berman’s playbook.
    You remember Don Berman, don’t you? Obama’s stealth recess appointment as chief of CMS? Admirer of rationed care based on cost-effectiveness and promoter of wealth redistribution via medical coverage? During his tenure, CMS became focused on his three points: hospital acquired infections, # of hospital re-admissions and medical errors. 
    And the #1 method that was promoted to gain public sympathy, engagement and acceptance was to put a human face on it. Tell a specific story that tugs at the heart strings, produces strong emotion and drives to an obvious conclusion that no one could argue with  (for example, it’s wrong to let toddlers die in hospital parking lots, an otherwise healthy teenager with a broken bone should not be placed in a two-person room with a coughing spitting active TB victim, doctors shouldn’t remove your organs if you are still alive) in order to implement a new rule. Generally, these stories are about children – I guess a 39 y/o was the best they could come up with here for a transplant horror story.
    There’s no doubt that medical mistakes were made here – but it seems to me that it was the individual personnel involved and flagrant disregard of the established policies of the hospital and the organ transplant agency (unmentioned in any article about this case) so no need for mass panic and withdrawal from donor status. Unless that is the point of this sudden broadcast of a 4 year’s past event? To reduce the number of available organs and subsequently the number of transplants preformed?
    Transplants themselves are enormously expensive and the aftermath is as well, Follow-up care is intense, medication bills for immunosuppressives run an average of $2500.00/month and an organ  recipient gets SSI checks for 3 years after transplant. Less organs, less transplants, less expenses.
    I question the timing and the motives for promoting this story which is getting some pretty heavy national play right now.
    Its also interesting to note that the Yahoo article ends with a tongue-clicking quote from a Safe Patient Project official. This at first glance looks to be an arm of an independent consumer watch-dog group but when you look at their website, they have listed Hospital Acquired Infections and Medical Errors as two of their three main categories. Very much in alignment with CMS focus points.  And in the center of the page is a feature called Real People Real Stories. One wonders if some federal grant money made its way over to establish and fund this project? Question – who watch-dogs the watch dog?

  4. lee says

    Organ donation is a difficult thing. Actually, some of the “miracles” of modern medicine can be extremely problematic.
     
    A family member of a Facebook friend recently had an organ transplant. It failed, and she needed another. My facebook friend asked that people pray for her family member to get the needed organ for a transplant. (BTW, this wasn’t a kidney; the donor was going to be someone who died.) I said that I could not pray for that, since in doing so, I was essentially praying for someone who died. I did offer that I could pray for God in his wisdom to do as he saw fit.
     
    One problem is that as ho-hum as we have taken transplants to be, they really aren’t. But we EXPECT them to be. But the only perfect heart is one that is “harvested” from someone fairly young, in good shape, who hasn’t actually died yet. They love it when someone dies “on the table.” And there are NOT a lof of those available.  People who die in car accidents (the best source for organ donation), don’t provide the sort of ideal quality organs, unless they make it to the hospital first, before expiring. 
     
    BTW, someone else I know from a VERY WEALTHY family have had NO problems whatsover getting on transplant lists.  While the sibling of an another aquaintance with the same heriditery condition died–her family barely eeked by. Now, admittedly, the conditions of the two people could have been very different–the one who died may never have been able to benefit from an organ transplant. But I have always suspected the power of potential donations to the hospital to help get people moved up on transplant lists.

  5. jj says

    Crusader: here’s a question for you.  That woman died – or they thought she did – from a drug overdose.  Ummm….. how badly do I want that liver?  Or that pancreas?  Or those kidneys?  (OK – eyes, lungs, heart – stuff like that: fine.)  The central core organs, if she OD’d so bad she died, has she not just more or less fried them?

  6. Caped Crusader says

    jj:
    Good question!. When organs are “harvested” there is an evaluation of each organs health. If this was a one time episode and the health was good, most organs would be useable; especially the heart, corneas, etc. Organs that detoxify such as liver and kidneys are another matter, and I would think that it would be a judgement call depending on the health of the organ and how desperate the patient and surgeon were at that moment. There would be blood  drawn and a toxicology level evaluated and other organ functions reflected in the results.  Organ transplant is not my strong suite, but generally this would be true.

  7. lee says

    BTW, one of the parents of the wealthy organ recipient referenced above was a cardio-thoracic surgeon. Not only wealthy, but well-connected in the medical world. (The recipient was also on the faculty of a big-dealy-ho medical school. So she was also well connected.) My acquaintence’s parents worked on the line in a factory, the sibling worked as a grocery store clerk. All in a dinky town in fly-over country.
     
    While I grumble over the connected getting the good jobs, and accepted into school, I think it is a shanda that they get the organ transplants.
     
    Of course, like I wrote above, it could have been that might acquaintaince’s sibling’s overall health was not conducive to a transplant, while the child of wealth and connections was. But I also know that a lot of medical practitioners just assume that country folk are stupid rednecks who eat nothing but fried foods, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit, and can’t be trusted to do what they need to do to take care of themselves, like excercise, eat right, etc.

  8. Ron19 says

    Caped Crusader #7:
     
    “…and how desperate the patient and surgeon were at that moment.”
     
    A nurse (not doctor) friend of mine had been an organ harvester.  One time while she was doing her thing, two doctors barged into the room, fighting with each other over which one of them would get the heart for their patient.  My friend was so disgusted with them, that she never did harvesting again.
     
     
     
     

  9. Ron19 says

    Re: lee #4:
     
    When I found out that for most of the desirable necessary-for-life transplant organs, the “donor” still has to be alive when the organ is removed, I removed myself from automatically donating anything but blood and stem cells for leukemia patients.  My Living Will is now worded to require me to die a natural death.  Nourishment and hydration are not only welcome but mandatory if want them, along with pain management and everyday prescription medicines and therapies; heroic efforts to prolong my life are optional.
     
    When I found out that a lot of “donated” organs come from prisoners in China, I decided that I am not more deserving of a vital organ than the current living owner.  It’s OK if I donate or receive a donated organ, but it is not mandatory.
     
    Even later, I found out that in most jurisdictions the doctor on the case can over-ride any provisions of patient request, living will, etc., including whether or not to donate.

  10. Ron19 says

    “I’m afraid I’m wondering how many people don’t wake up in time”
     
    In the 1978 movie The Great Train Robbery starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, one of the gimmicks they used was a bell on top of a coffin attached by a string to the hand or toe of the supposed corpse, in case he should come back to life.
     
    I’ve read that around that time, as many as a quarter of the “deceased” were actually buried alive, because there wasn’t a reliable way to test for life.  I’ve also read that many shamans, fakirs, oriental whatever-they-were-called could deliberately slow their heart rate and respiration to the point that they appeared stopped completely, and then come out of it at will.
     
    And, on a documentary on TV some decades ago, about the time of the movie Flatline, some med students kept one of their group alive by CPR, etc., after injecting drugs that would stop his breathing and then his heart.  At the end of the demonstration, they brought him back to full normal without ill effect.

  11. says

     
    Clearly there’s a nerve to be hit in a bunch of people when it comes to this subject.  Do please go to that site – The Will To Live – they go through a lot of stuff that I’d NEVER thought of (medical family two generations on both sides) that will be helpful to you.
     
    Someone more “up” on transplants needs to correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that ANY organs for transplant in this country can get here from China.  I do understand that there’s a thriving industry in that country, but people who want a transplanted Chinese organ have to go over there for it – at least, that’s true as I understand the present technology….no guarantees in the future.
     
    There are a number of different criteria for “death”….it used to be that one had to stop breathing and their heart had to stop beating before one was “dead”.  By that time, the most important organs are generally damaged and not useful for transplant.  So, “whole brain death” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_death) was the next criterion used…..essentially, your brain had to show no activity anywhere for you to be judged as “dead”.  However, that didn’t satisfy some folks, so in two or three jurisdictions in our world, the criterion is “brain stem death” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_stem_death). 
     
    Note that each of these modifications yields more transplantable organs from any given supply of “dead” people…although you’re probably a “hater”, as well as a member of the Tea Party, if you are going to suggest that such considerations had ANYTHING to do with the changing definitions.  Still….you would be shocked (shocked, I say) to read what kinds of things are being suggested (by people who hold themselves out as reasonable and moral) in the journals of bioethics(sic).  The ethic that holds human life to be sacred – that is, “not to be touched” – may still be accepted among the great unwashed, but those who believe they know how to live our lives better than we do ourselves have given it up.  And they want to act on THEIR perceptions, not ours, in all aspects of public life.
     
    Be sure you understand that, as you decide how to proceed in these matters.

  12. Caped Crusader says

    Ron19   #11:
     
    “a bell on top of a coffin attached by a string to the hand or toe of the supposed corpse, in case he should come back to life.”
     
    This is the origin of the term, “saved by the bell”.

  13. says

    Hey, somebody’s got to provide the limited resources so that Congress can live until their 15th decade of wise born to rule dotage….
     
    who do you think is going to get it done when the powers that be has decreed that “human resources” are renewable? That was always the benefit of having slaves, right. They were renewable and didn’t require mechanical maintenance or replacement.

  14. NancyB says

    “But the only perfect heart is one that is ”harvested” from someone fairly young, in good shape, who hasn’t actually died yet. ”
    That’s the problem – better organs come from people who are still alive.  Most people don’t know that “organ donors” are given anesthesia when their organs are “harvested”……Why?  I never gave this a thought until hearing about it during a  “Conscious Sedation” class mandated by my hospital of employment.  The instructor was discussing the ASA (American Society of Anesthesiologists) Physical Risk Classification System:

    ASA PS 6
    A declared brain-dead patient who organs are being removed for donor purposes

    I was stunned!  And I asked the question: “Why does a dead person need anesthesia?” There was an uncomfortable silence and no direct answer – just on to the next subject….It woke me up to reality.  Later, while googling the issue I came across a website put up by parents of donors and their agony when they discovered this horrifying truth.  Yes, it all sounds nice – give someone else life – then your life will not be in vain……the reality of the politics and unethical procedures involved in organ donation is far removed from the illusion of mass marketing.

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