Opt out of this outdated — and potentially deadly — “good deed”

When you renew your driver’s license at the Motor Vehicle Administration, I suggest opting out of becoming an organ donor. (At least until the transplant industry starts to recognize donors’ rights.)

Now, I know a lot of people think becoming an organ donor is a part of their civic duty. But the process is fraught with more dangers and abuses that you could ever imagine.

For one, the majority of organ donations take place after a patient is declared “brain dead.” But the process in declaring a patient “brain dead” relies on vague criteria established 50 years ago by a Harvard University committee.

And in the 50 years since the Harvard committee established those guidelines, we’ve seen significant advancements in the treatment, restoration, and rehabilitation of patients who, at one point, were declared brain dead. But the criteria for declaring a patient “brain dead” hasn’t changed to reflect these advancements.

Furthermore, being declared “brain dead” isn’t the same thing as being declared “dead,” by any means.

As a board-certified Medical Examiner, I know exactly what’s involved in making a legal and medical declaration and authentication of death. I also know what you need to prove it in court.

Unfortunately, the Harvard committee’s guidelines fall far short of this legal and medical standard.

Plus, there are many reports of young, “brain dead” patients waking up just in the nick of time…before their organs got nicked.

Organ donors “wake up” in the nick of time

Earlier this year, 13-year-old Trenton McKinley from Alabama and his parents told the macabre tale of his “miracle” awakening after being declared brain dead from an auto accident — just one day before his organs were scheduled to be surgically removed from his body.

There’s also the story of 21-year-old Zack Dunlap from Oklahoma who actually heard a doctor tell his parents that a brain scan had confirmed he was brain dead following a head injury.

While Zack was being prepared for surgery to take out his organs, he purposely moved his arm in response to being stimulated. Fortunately, Zack was spared and went home 48 days later — very much alive and with all his organs intact.

In 2001, doctors treated a 55-year-old man suffering from a brain injury with induced hypothermia (low temperature) to try to optimize his neurological recovery. But just 24 hours after his body was brought back to normal temperature, doctors declared him brain dead.

Turns out, they prematurely jumped to this conclusion.

In fact, during the organ procurement, the surgeon noted that the man had regained some brainstem reflexes. In other words, he was not brain dead, let alone legally deceased. But by then, it was too late…

Make no mistake — these terrifying tragedies could happen to anyone…

How can they get away with this? Transplant doctors are more concerned about doing their procedures than respecting and protecting the rights of donors — who have no advocates in the medical system.

There’s just too much room for error in the way this process is conducted! And these patients weren’t ever really brain dead in the first place, let alone deceased.

But making the declaration of brain death more rigorous (and accurate) would likely reduce the number of organ donors — something the organ transplant industry greatly fears.

In fact, some doctors — such as Robert M. Sade, M.D. — are pushing in the other direction. Dr. Sade is advocating to eliminate the need to obtain a formal brain death determination before organ procurement. Not only that, but he also wants to take organs from “nearly dead” donors, while the heart is still beating in the poor, living donor patient.

Dr. Sade is a professor of surgery and director of the Institute of Human Values in Health Care, Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. But it sounds to me like he doesn’t place much value on the lives of the organ donors.

Additionally, you should think long and hard before donating a kidney to a patient in need. Remember, there are many life-long risks for donors. Plus, just as there are new technologies to keep “brain dead” patients alive, there are also new technologies to help failing organs, such as adult stem cell transplants, partial liver transplants, and all the natural means of restoring organ functions. But at least in the case of kidney donors, a living donor can make a conscious, informed choice about donating one kidney, while keeping the other.

In the end, we just can’t rely on the irresponsible minions of the medical organ transplant industry to sign away our lives when we’re not conscious to make a decision.

I strongly advise against signing away your right to life by agreeing to be an organ donor, until the situation improves and takes into account the rights of prospective donors. Simply put, the transplant surgeons aren’t looking out for you in a quite literal life or death situation, where you are just as deserving of a chance at survival.


“Another ‘Brain Dead’ Patient Wakes Up Just in Time,” Medscape (medscape.com) 10/16/2018