DEAR ABBY: There is a widespread public misconception that needs to be cleared up. Americans need to know that family consent, not a donor card, is required for organ donation to occur. Hospital personnel always require the consent of next-of-kin before procuring organs. Organ donor cards are effective only if they provide a stimulus for family discussions about the intention to become an organ donor, and the potential donor makes plain to his or her family the desire to make the donation.
In 1995, a review of medical records of deceased patients revealed that there were approximately 13,000 to 15,000 potential organ donors. But only about 5,346 individuals actually donated, despite the fact that the American public overwhelmingly supports organ donation.
Thanks in advance for your help in closing this unfortunate gap. -- TANA SHERMAN, PARTNERSHIP FOR ORGAN DONATION, BOSTON
DEAR TANA: Thank you for an important letter. Discussing one's desire to be an organ donor is a vital step in the organ donation process. When people sign donor cards, they make a commitment and express their wishes to be vital organ donors at the time of their death. But if family members are unaware of a potential donor's wishes, they can -- and often do -- react negatively when they are approached and asked to give their consent. If families understand in advance, there could be an estimated additional 16,000 transplants each year.
I will continue to urge my readers to sign organ donor cards and to discuss their wishes with their families. I believe that most families will agree to respect the wishes of their loved ones.