Early in my nursing career, I always felt privileged when I cared for a potential organ donor. That work led me to a career in the donation and transplantation field. Now, I'm the CEO of an organ procurement organization and president of the national association that represents all organ procurement organizations. The opportunity to work with donor families and transplant recipients still inspires me.
Unfortunately, I believe the author of your article only added to the confusion about deceased organ donation. The Uniform Determination of Death Act defined death, in 1981, as the irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory function, or irreversible cessation of all functions of the brain including the brainstem. The essential bodily function of breathing depends on signals from the brain, which are no longer present when brain death occurs. While mechanical ventilation causes the rise and fall of the chest and supports some rudimentary functioning of the body, it doesn't change death.
I'd also like to point out that the number of people willing to say "yes" to donation has been growing steadily. Approximately 78.5 million Americans are registered as organ and tissue donors on their state donor registries. The Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, more than 70% of those eligible to donate their organs did so.1
In October 2008, the national waiting list in the United States topped 100,000 candidates for the first time.2 A single organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people if his heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and intestines are all transplanted. I believe that organ and tissue donation is a natural extension of nursing's foundation to do good and to avoid doing harm.
SUE DUNN, RN
President, Association of Organ Procurement Organizations
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, based on data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. September 5, 2008. [Context Link]
2. Data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. October 7, 2008. [Context Link]