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Number of Americans willing to donate organs rises, but still not keeping pace with need

According to a new survey by Donate Life America, 43 percent of people are undecided, reluctant or do not wish to have their organs and tissue donated after their deaths. While an improvement over findings from a similar survey last year in which 50 percent reported the same, the statistic illustrates a critical need to continue to increase the level of support for organ donation to save the lives of the more than 105,000 adults and children on the transplant waiting list in the U.S., an average 18 of whom die each day waiting.

The survey uncovered reasons for registering and not registering. Among respondents who report being registered donors, the reason provided by more than half (53 percent) is to help others in need. For the undecided, reluctant or those who do not wish to have their organs and tissue donated, the most common reasons were not being sure they'd be acceptable donors (19 percent), haven't decided (15 percent) and want to keep their organs and be buried whole (8 percent).

"We are encouraged by the increased willingness of Americans to register as donors," says Donate Life America Chair Helen Bottenfield. "With the huge and growing need for organs, our hope is to save the greatest possible number of lives." April is National Donate Life month and Donate Life America is encouraging people to visit or to learn more and to register.

The online survey of 5,100 U.S. adults, which was supported by Astellas Pharma US, Inc., also uncovered some pervasive myths regarding donation. For example, the majority (52 percent) of respondents were open to the idea that doctors may not try as hard to save their lives if their wish to be organ donors is known, and 61 percent are open to the idea that it is possible for a brain dead person to recover from his or her injuries. In addition, 8 percent believe that organ or tissue donation is against their religion.

"It's important for people to know the facts," says David Fleming, president and CEO, Donate Life America. "For health professionals, the number one priority is always to save the lives of their patients, and only after death is organ and tissue donation considered. While you can recover from comas, brain death is permanent, irreparable. And, there are no known religions in the U.S. with a position against donation; rather, all major religions support organ donation as one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity."

The Media and Donation

Past research has found that the mass media may be partly to blame for misperceptions about organ donation. However, the survey points to a possible positive effect from the recently cancelled TV drama "Three Rivers," a medical show that aired on CBS during the fall 2009 season and featured organ transplants through three points of view: the doctors, the donors and the recipients. Twelve percent of survey respondents had watched at least one episode, and of these, 58 percent said it made them feel more positive toward organ or tissue donation while only 2 percent said it made them feel more negative. "That means the show led nearly 7 percent of Americans to feel more positive toward donation. And, the survey showed a 6 percent overall increase over the past year in the number of people interested in being donors, so there may be a correlation," said Fleming. To encourage the entertainment industry to be part of the solution and not the problem, Donate Life Hollywood will host its second annual Film Festival encouraging accurate and inspiring storylines June 11-12.

Additional survey findings include:

  • More than three-fourths of adults (78 percent) correctly realize there are more people who need organ transplants in the U.S. than the number of donated organs available.

  • 61 percent of adults would donate the organs or tissue of a family member if they died suddenly without indicating their wishes.

  • The number of African Americans who wish to donate all their organs and tissue has increased to 41 percent versus 31 percent in 2009 encouraging news as African Americans comprise nearly 35 percent of the national kidney transplant waiting list.

  • Most adults (61 percent) believe TV shows and movies have a public responsibility to portray organ and tissue donation and transplantation in an accurate way.


Contact: Lauren McDonnell
GolinHarris International

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