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Common Myths of Organ Donation

Common Myths of Organ Donation
Common Myths of Organ Donation


Duke Health News Duke Health News

Every 12 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list. As of April 2006, that list contained around 92,000 names. Because of the lack of available organs for transplant, 17 of those people die each day, on average.

In recognition of Donate Life Month, a Duke University Medical Center transplant administrator highlights some of the common myths of organ donation that may prevent people from becoming a donor.

Myth: Doctors will not work as hard to save the life of an organ donor.

"That is simply not true," said Syvil S. Burke, RN, MSN, MBA, associate operating officer for transplant services at Duke University Hospital. "The medical staff working to save a patient's life is completely separate from the organ procurement agency."

Fact: In the great majority of cases, the emergency personnel have no idea whether the patient they are treating is a potential donor or not. Donation takes place only after all lifesaving efforts have failed and death has been declared by a physician.

Myth: There is an age limit on organ donation.

Fact: People of all ages and medical histories may be organ and tissue donors. Physical condition, not age, will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

"The appropriate age for a donor changes with the organ," said Burke. "A grandmother could still have a perfectly good liver, and the donation of that one organ could save a life."

Myth: Organs are sold, sometimes on the black market.

"Neither organ donors nor their families receive any financial compensation for becoming an organ donor, " said Burke.

Fact: Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the U.S. Organ donation in the country is managed by nonprofit organ procurement organizations that are certified and monitored by the federal government.

Myth: Having "organ donor" noted on your driver's license or carrying a donor card is all you have to do to become a donor.

Fact: While a signed donor card and a driver's license with an "organ donor" designation are legal documents, they do not guarantee that your organs will be donated. Hospitals ask the next of kin for permission before removing organs, so the decision ultimately lies with them.

"In general, families do not care to talk about death, and if they do not talk about death, they are certainly not going to talk about organ donation," said Burke. "The best way to ensure that your wishes are carried out is to inform your family of your desire to donate."

Myth: Only hearts, livers, and kidneys can be transplanted.

Fact: Organs that can be donated include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissues that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.

"Every donation makes a difference. Last year at Duke, we had 14 actual donors and saved 60 lives," said Burke.

For more information on becoming an organ donor, visit

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