The rate of transplants from deceased donors (mostly people who have been killed in car accidents) has not increased significantly for many years. The main problem is that organs can donate a kidney only be taken from people who are pronounced brain dead and kept on life support during the time it takes to notify a recipient and get that person to the hospital. The organ is taken from the person on life support about the same time that the plug is pulled on the machine. An added problem is that a kidney taken like this lasts, on average, only about half as long as one taken from a live donor.
So why aren’t people being told that they can donate a kidney while still alive? There seem to be two main reasons, and neither of them is very easy to proclaim without offending people: First, the people in control of such big organisations as the National Kidney Foundation, are generally not willing to donate a kidney themselves, and so they feel that it is not fair to encourage others to do something that they personally would not be willing to do. The second reason is that the people who have donated are heavily pressured not to encourage other people to donate. We are told that we would be showing off or that we would be laying heavy guilt trips onto the rest of society if we were to push for more emphasis on education about live non-directed organ donations.
On top of that, even the people in need of kidneys are often made to feel that they are ‘begging’ if they actively seek help from someone to save their life. Some people have been known to die without even telling their closest friends and relatives that they needed a donor.
It’s true that donating a kidney to save a life is not everyone’s cup of tea. But there are many people, like ourselves, who would be thrilled just to know that they could make such a difference with their life. I spoke to a group of elderly people at a nursing home about live organ donation and was flooded with requests for information on how they could donate. (Unfortunately, these people were all too old to be able to donate themselves, but I urged them to tell their children and grandchildren about it.)