24 April 1998

Too Late For Organ Donor Families Who Change Their Minds

The airbag didn't deploy; you were the crumple zone. You gave yourself to science and there was no turning back. Most donors, of course, tend not to have second thoughts (the dead are not generally indecisive). Yet according to investigators from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis and Mid-America Transplant Services, a large number of living kin-folk who bequeathed their loved ones' vital parts to medicine would not do so again if asked.

The findings, reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, show that about one in five donor families came to second guess their decisions. Reasons cited include religious sensibility and the process of the decision-making itself. Those who came to regret their actions were likely to be regular church-goers, less educated, and may have felt leery at the way health workers approached them for permission.

In addition, many would like to have received more support after the event, if only to be told where the organs actually went.

"At a time when there is a real scarcity of donated organs and tissues in this country, it's not to anyone's advantage to have people feeling they did not do the right thing," says Barry Hong, associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at the School of Medicine.

More than fifty thousand people are currently seeking kidneys, hearts, livers and other organs in the United States. Of those, one person dies every nine minutes, still waiting.