Will We Shed Moral Apathy About Organ Donation?

Monty Self


Will We Shed Moral Apathy About Organ Donation? | Monty Self, Organ Donation, UNOS

We cannot say we are in favor of an issue and fail to support it with action, Self writes.
Apathy. All ethicists fear the word.

Apathy occurs when an individual cares about an issue – but not enough to take action.

Moral debate requires action and change. Without a push for moral action, our sermons, articles and fireside chats simply become mindless complaining or pointless rhetoric filled with apathy.

We cannot say we are in favor of an issue and fail to support it with action.

One area where Christian ethicists have failed to be consistent is organ donation.

We have supported transplant centers and the development of these life-giving procedures for years. Many of us have prayed with patients and families as they wait for a precious organ. However, we are inconsistent.

We have supported the needs of transplant patients while forgetting to call people to be engaged in the organ donation process.

The life-giving miracle of organ transplantation is powerless without someone being willing to help save a life through the donation process.

Rarely have I read a call for donation in a Christian ethics journal, and I have never heard a sermon calling the faithful to help save a life through donation. We simply have neglected the issue.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), 90 percent of Americans are in favor of organ donation, yet only about one-third has registered as an organ donor.

Therefore, two-thirds of those in favor of donation and transplantation have failed to act in line with their convictions.

With more than 113,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, the need is great. With a new name being added every 14 minutes, there must be a call to more action.

Unfortunately, the need for solid organs and tissues has far exceeded those available for transplant, resulting in about 18 deaths a day.

Moreover, most patients wait months or even years for an organ to become available. The median time a patient waits for a kidney transplant exceeds 1,200 days, while the wait for a liver or heart is shorter (361 and 113 days, respectively).

No one should have to wait for the gift of life when something can be done.

As preachers, ethicists and goodwill Baptists, we are often involved in discussions about the sacredness of life. Frequently, we speak about abortion, end-of-life care and capital punishment.

A good ethics of life must be more than an argument designed to preserve life at all costs. An ethics of life must also address the need to save lives.

Therefore, the Christian ethics community should actively be involved in discussions regarding organ donation.

We need to take a few steps.

First, we need to be educated about how the organ donation process works. The public is often confused about what can be donated and who is eligible for donation.

Often people do not register because they wrongly assume they are not eligible. Often I work with families and individuals who are shocked to hear about senior citizens donating organs and tissue to help save or enhance someone's life.

Second, we need to call our congregations, students and readers to action, reminding them that being in favor of transplantation is not the same as helping to solve the organ shortage by joining a donor registry.

Like other moral issues, we need to preach, write and teach about these issues. We need to work with our respective audiences and help dispel many of the common myths about organ donation.

Third, we need to facilitate private discussions about donation. Apart from joining a registry, the single most important thing one can do is to inform one's family or health care proxy of the desire to donate.

Organ donation is a personal decision, and many people want to discuss it with their clergy. We need to be actively engaged in these personal discussions.

As a health care ethicist and hospital chaplain, I always want to respect the desires and wishes of my patients, but this is hard if no one has discussed end-of-life issues prior to an illness or traumatic accident.

In addition, many discussions of organ donation happen after a loved one has died, and clergy are often in the room when the subject of donation arises.

We need to become comfortable being a part of these discussions and helping to support these grieving families.

It is time for the Christian ethics community to take a more active role supporting the transplant and donation community. This month is a perfect time because April has been set aside as National Donate Life Month.

As we enjoy the warmer weather and are amazed by the renewal of life that spring brings, we should also reflect on the need to assist those who are waiting for renewed life.

We need to make a contribution to help reduce the amount of time these patients wait by helping to register more donors and educating our audiences about the needs of the transplant and donor communities.

This one, like many issues, needs us to shake off the chains of apathy and effect change.

Monty M. Self is the oncology chaplain for the Baptist Health Medical Center – Little Rock in Arkansas and an adjunct instructor of ethics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.