SIR – I read your article on organ transplants with interest (“The gap between supply and demand”, October 11th). I am the father of a seven-year-old boy, Nicholas Green, who was shot and killed in an attempted robbery during a family vacation in Italy. My wife and I donated his organs and corneas to seven very sick Italians, four of them teenagers. We’ve watched them grow into men and women and, 14 years later, all seven are still alive. Having seen all this I cannot visualise any decision other than the one we made, though to us at the time those people were just statistics on a waiting list.
The main obstacle for most people, I suggest, is this: brain death is usually sudden death—a road accident, a stroke, violence—and people arrive at the hospital to find someone they love, who was in good health only a few hours earlier, now dead or dying. Many are too stunned to take it in, others are angry and looking to assign blame; relations between family members may be tense, almost all are confused about organ donation.
To make a major, irrevocable decision there and then in this highly emotional atmosphere, about something they have never thought about before, is just too much for many people. They say no and often regret it for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, of all the hundreds of donor families I have met, I can scarcely remember one who regretted the decision.
If this is correct, the solution is clear: just as with any other important decision, families should discuss the options in calm conditions, when death is still a distant concept. As the overwhelming majority of people in most countries say they would donate a family member’s organs if they were faced with the choice, I would expect donation rates to soar.
The article itself is also worth reading, but this letter really stuck out to me. Some years ago my father wrote a letter to the Inquirer saying much of the same, though from a first person standpoint. As a result, things like this always move me a little.
Monday, October 27, 2008
From the Economist
at 5:27 PM