By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Very few people of faith would argue against saving lives. Some have been known to give their own lives to protect or save another. Many give generously to help starving or homeless people or malnourished children. Like our leader, Christians — when at their best — model compassion. They do whatever it takes to alleviate suffering and even death.
What if we could save lives with no risk to our own health or well-being, or even without spending a penny? Surely all of us would be willing to sign up. Sadly, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Organ donation is an idea that is catching on too slowly. Perhaps the population is simply not educated about the need or the opportunity. Perhaps we don’t care to think about our own deaths, much less the giving of body parts that many people understand are more valuable than pure gold.
Perhaps our hesitancy is simply a matter of perspective. Maybe if it our grandchildren, sons or daughters, spouses, parents, grandparents or dear friends, this form of life-saving would become a greater priority for us. If a physician were to tell me I needed a transplanted heart, lung, liver or some other organ to survive, I would be more than casually interested in encouraging my fellow citizens to get with the program.
The fact is that people of all ages are in need of life-saving organs, and there are not enough to go around. It is not because harvestable organs are in short supply, but they are not taken against the will of the deceased or next of kin. Someone has to say “yes.” A yes may mean life for an organ-needy person. A no leaves absolutely no room for saving another life.
The State of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services has an excellent Web site resource for learning more about what organ transplantation is and what it isn’t. It maintains an organ donor registry, enabling citizens to declare their intentions about organ donation. A good starting point is their organ donor FAQ page here or snipurl.com/OrganDonorFAQ.
Today, 92,000 people in the United States are awaiting an organ transplant. Some 1,900 of them live in Missouri. Perhaps you know one or more of these people. Since 1988, more than 9,000 Missouri residents have received an organ transplant. As wonderful as that is, people still die each year because the need is greater than the supply.
According to the site, the following organs can be donated: heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and small intestine. Tissue that can be donated includes corneas, skin, bone, bone marrow, heart valves, blood vessells and tendons.
Communication is the No. 1 facilitator of organ donation in Missouri. Communication to family — next of kin — is important because loved ones make the final decision at the time of a person’s death. One of the barriers for deciding for organ donation is being unaware of the departed’s wishes on the matter, especially at such an emotionally-charged time.
What are some ways to make such wishes known? Sign the back of your Missouri Driver’s License with a permanent marker. Carry a completed organ donor card on your person. Join the Missouri Organ Donor registry (www.missouriorgandonor.com). Most important, tell family and friends about your decision. None of these actions will override the decision of loved ones at the time of your death, but there will be no question as to your wishes.
For people of faith, a decision to donate organs is a win-win. More than one person may benefit from the organs of a single person. At the time of your death, you save one or more lives. Your example helps others make the right decision before their time comes. You become a model to others because of your compassion, foresight and love of others.
Important ethical questions are rightly raised for many proosed medical treatments, but no such quandry exists for those who choose to give of themselves upon their own deaths, either ethically or spiritually. Organ donation is perfectly consistent with the Christian value of service to others, no matter who they might be. (5-3-07)