Monday, April 25, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Barbara Burchill of Winona, Minnesota, had a letter in the Star Tribune on April 23 that both moved and disturbed me. It wasn't the usual partisan stuff, but instead a personal story we all should know about because it could happen to any of us.

Asked for jarring data during a time of grief

In a recent letter, the writers stated that they "have never heard a family say they were sorry their loved one was a [organ] donor."I'm not sorry my husband was a donor, but I'm not happy about it, either.

My husband died very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 59. When the coroner asked me if I wanted to donate any of my husband's organs, I wasn't in any shape to make important decisions or to process information. Still, I agreed.

Later that evening, I spent close to an hour on the phone with the organ donation agency and answered detailed questions about my husband's family, travel and sexual history. I was reeling from the shock of his death, and there were phone calls I needed to make.

Instead, I had to try to remember all the countries he'd visited and when he'd been there. I was also asked to consider the possibility of any extramarital affairs he might have had.

Certainly, it's good to know that people may have been helped by my husband's corneas and/or skin tissue, and I understand the need for the information I had to provide. But what was already the worst night of my life was made even more horrific by that phone call.

So if you want to be an organ donor, make sure your family has easy access to a written list of all the traveling you've ever done and all the sex partners you've ever had. And if you don't want to do that, then let them know that they can decide about donating your organs.

It may not cost anything (unless the agency refuses to reimburse the funeral home for any extra "repair" work that needs to be done), but it will take a toll.
I had no idea organ banks needed to collect this type of information. As soon as I read Barbara's letter, I recognized why the banks would need that type of detail, but I think this is an example where the insider point of view from the organ bank and the layperson point of view are completely out of touch with each other.

There has to be a better way for organ banks to get the minimum information they need without afflicting grieving relatives. How many organs are rejected because the information is not available, I wonder? Could you provide this type of detail for your closest family members?

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