Wall Street Journal Gets It Wrong on Organ Donation


The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article that was very critical of organ donation. The author argues that people who agree to be organ donors don't just give up their organs — they give up their right to informed consent. He implies that doctors will ruthlessly harvest a patients' organs without consulting with their families first. This is pretty far from the truth. 

When a person dies, the next-of-kin legally must give explicit and written permission before any tissue or organ may be donated. It doesn't matter whether or not the deceased had a "donor" sticker on the drivers' license. (Indeed, that very point is a legal sticky point that lowers organ donation rates.)  

Having a donor sticker on a drivers license is merely a signal. It has no legal impact whatsoever — it's absolutely nothing other than a statement of a wish to donate. A physician could not take a brain dead patient's organs away without the consent of a family member, as the author implies. That's because, when a person dies, he no longer have any legal rights over anything — including  his dead body. His legal next-of-kin does, but it is up to that person to honor his wishes or not. The doctors cannot overrule that, contrary to what this person alleges in his essay.  

This article may have the unfortunate result of dissuading people from donating their organs. That would have bad social and economic consequences, since higher levels of organ donation are desireable, since it means that it extends the lives of people on the transplant waiting list.

The article includes another big inaccuracy: Determining brain death is a more involved process than splashing water in a patient's ears. Doctors typically will perform additional tests to determine whether a patient is brain dead, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG) or a cerebral blood flow (CBF) study.

It seems to me that the author is bending the truth and preying on people's fear of death just to sell more copies of his book.  

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