When most people think of giving in the context of estate planning, they think of bestowing a monetary gift on a person or organization at some point in the future. However, the most valuable gift is often not one of money at all, but, rather – the gift of life – a gift which can be made through organ donation, which can be as simple as checking a box on a form at the DMV or an Advance Health Care Directive.
I recently read an op-ed piece in the New York Times (Giving Life After Death Row, New York Times, The Opinion Pages, 3/5/2011) by Christian Longo, a condemned prisoner who is currently on Death Row in Oregon. Mr. Longo killed his wife and three children, and he was sentenced to death for their murders in 2003. After his sentence, Mr. Longo went through a period of trying to convince others that he was innocent, followed by a period of time in which he tried to convince himself that what he did didn’t matter. Eventually, the enormity of what he had done sank in, and he was left with remorse and a wish to make amends. Mr. Longo acknowledges that there is no way to atone for what he did, but he firmly believes that “a profound benefit to society can come from [his] circumstances.” This “benefit” is through donation of his organs to a person or persons whose lives may depend upon the receipt of the same.
With this in mind, Mr. Longo filed a petition requesting that any remaining appeals be ended and that he be executed and his organs donated to those who in need. This request was denied by the prison, which stated that the “interests of the public and condemned inmates are best served by denying the petition.” Although Mr. Longo acknowledges that there are some logistical and health concerns regarding organ donation by prisoners, he provides some seemingly workable solutions to these concerns. This article led me to think about the real benefits of organ donation and how remarkable it is that this option even exists in our society.
According to the U.S. Government’s website devoted to organ and tissue donation and transplantation, http://www.organdonor.gov/, every 11 minutes, a person is added to the waiting list for an organ. Each day, an average of 75 people receive organ transplants, however, an average of 20 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t occur because of the shortage of donated organs.
Due to advances in medicine, organ transplants not only occur more often, but are much more successful than they were in the past. This is due, in large part, to advances made in education and research relating to organ donations. One person’s organs could be used to save as many as eight different individuals’ lives. The acceptance and demand for organ donation has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. In 1989, there were approximately 18,000 people on the waiting list for transplants, compared with almost 106,000 in 2009. Of those, 13,140 received transplants in 1989, compared with 28,463 in 2009. The number of living and deceased donors in 1989 was a mere 5,927, whereas by 2009, that number had increased to 14,630.
Although the number of donors has been slowly increasing through the years, it is no way sufficient to meet the current need, as can be seen by looking at the number of people waiting for a transplant in the United States in 2009 – 105,567 compared with the number of donors in that same year – 14,630.
Organ donation is not a decision which should be made lightly, as it is extremely personal in nature and many factors come into play. Organ Donation is not for everyone, however, we urge you to consider it when the time comes to initiate or amend your estate plan, or, more specifically, your Advance Health Care Directive, as it is very important for your health care agent to know your wishes regarding organ donation