Timing May Matter in Organ Donation Decisions

WEDNESDAY April 22, 2009 -- Whether a family decides to donate -- or not donate -- a dying relative's organs depends on many things, but who makes the request and when it's made are key, U.K. researchers have found.

A request for organ donation should not take place at the same time that relatives are told their loved one has died or when brain stem testing takes place, concluded Dr. Duncan Young, of John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and his research colleagues. Their review of 20 studies found that it's important that there be a time gap between giving relatives bad news and making an organ donation request.

They also found that it's best if the transplant request is made by a transplant coordinator together with hospital staff.

Other important factors that influence relatives' decision to consent to organ donation include:

  • The amount of information they're given
  • How the relatives perceive the quality of care given to their loved one
  • Their understanding of what brain stem death actually means
  • The setting where the request takes place, with a private location deemed best
  • The approach and expertise of the person making the request
  • The amount of time families have to consider the request

The findings may not be surprising, the researchers said, but implementing them might increase organ donation rates and save more lives. Their findings appear online in the BMJ.

Teresa Shafer, of the LifeGift Organ Donation Center in Texas, wrote in an accompanying editorial that requesting an organ donation involves more than simply "popping the question." She described it as a "process consisting of observation, collaboration, planning and action that is based on family and hospital dynamics."

Hospitals and organ procurement groups must work together to increase the number of organs available for transplant, Shafer said, adding that "the donation request is too important to delegate to those who are not expert, prepared and focused on a successful outcome."

Posted: April 2009


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