A better way to donate your organs during National Donate Life Month

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There is now a better way to donate your organs when you die. Now you can help yourself while you are helping others.

There used to be just two choices when it came to organ donation—donate or don’t donate. Now, there is a third choice—donate to other donors who will return the favor. This choice is available through LifeSharers, the non-profit national organ circle. Members agree to donate their organs when they die. They also agree to offer their organs first to fellow members, if any member is a suitable match, before making them available to non-members. Everyone is invited to join the organ circle at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no cost to join.

People who join the organ circle accomplish three things. First, they increase their chances of getting a transplant if they ever need one. LifeSharers members get preferred access to the organs of other members. As the organ circle expands, your chances of getting a transplant if you ever need one keep going up—if you are a member. This is significant, since most of the people on the national transplant waiting list will die waiting.

“LifeSharers gives you a leg up on the list to get a donated organ,” says Amy Alkon, a syndicated columnist known as The Advice Goddess. “All you have to do is promise to donate your organs when you die. Seems like a good idea to me.”

Second, LifeSharers members give other people an incentive to donate their organs. The only way to get preferred access to the organs of other LifeSharers members its to register as an organ donor and join the organ circle. If you are not a member of the organ circle, your chances of getting a transplant if you ever need one keep going down as the organ circle expands.

“LifeSharers is a wonderful idea, a way to increase the supply of organs by providing a personal incentive to those who might consider donating,” says Dr. Benjamin Abelow of Stockbridge, Mass. “Whatever the reasons preventing people from becoming donors currently, LifeSharers can make people feel more comfortable with following their desire to help others.”

Third, LifeSharers makes the transplant system fairer. About half of the organs transplanted in the United States go to people who have not agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

“It is a fundamental issue of fairness that people who agree to donate organs should get priority if they need one,” says Professor Steve Calandrillo of the University of Washington Law School. “It is an irony that so many organs go to people who haven’t signed up as donors. LifeSharers is helping to fix that.”

“People live or die every day based on whether their neighbors are willing to be organ donors,” says John Landsberg, president of Bottom Line Communications in Kansas City Mo. “If you are willing to step up to the plate and be a donor, then you should have first access to organs if the need should ever arise in your life.”

There is no age limit on organ donation, and everyone can offer to donate, no matter his or her medical condition. Because there is such a large organ shortage, surgeons are now transplanting many organs they would have thrown away just a few years ago.

LifeSharers urges everyone to join their organ circle. “Even people who are already registered organ donors should join,” says Dave Undis, executive director of LifeSharers. “April is National Donate Life Month—a perfect time to do it.”

LifeSharers members receive a free donor card, letters they can share with family members and doctors, and language they can attach to their durable power of attorney for health care.

Facts about LifeSharers

LifeSharers has more than 8,200 members, including members in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

LifeSharers membership has doubled in the last 12 months.

LifeSharers members include doctors, nurses, bioethicists, teachers, students, members of the clergy, and members of our armed forces.

About 10 percent of LifeSharers members are minor children enrolled by their parents.

No one is excluded from joining LifeSharers because of any pre-existing medical condition.

LifeSharers membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88.

Facts about the organ shortage

More than 95,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list.

About 48,000 Americans will join the transplant waiting list in 2007.

More than 50 percent of the people on the transplant waiting list will die waiting.

More than 8,000 Americans die every year because of the organ shortage.

Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

Only about 50 percent of all adult Americans are registered organ donors.

Families refuse permission to transplant organs from a deceased relative about 50 percent of the time.

from the April 11-17, 2007, issue

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