The (Eugene) Register-Guard
The March 17 Register-Guard told the story of Eldon Hickey of Eugene, who was one of the nation’s oldest and longest-surviving recipients of a transplanted heart when he died at age 82. Hickey could not have lived so full a life without the thoughtful compassion of another whose life was cut short: The transplanted heart came from a donor who died in a motorcycle accident in 1987. Hickey’s last 31 years testify to the importance of a simple, selfless act — registering as an organ donor.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 95 percent of Americans support organ donation. All major religions encourage or condone it. Yet only 54 percent of Americans are registered as organ donors. An average of 20 people die every day in the United States while waiting for a donated organ — a number that could be reduced if the percentage of registered donors could be increased.
Twenty-five nations have “opt-out” organ donation systems — that is, people are presumed to have consented to donate their organs unless they ask to have their names removed from a registry. The opt-out system boosts registration rates dramatically — in Austria’s case, to 98 percent. So far, the concept has not spread to the United States.
Advances in medical science are increasing the number of people whose lives could be saved by a donated organ. The world’s first heart transplant was performed only 20 years before Hickey received the heart that served him so well.
There have been nearly 70,000 heart transplants since then — and 10 times that many life-saving transplants of other organs such as kidneys, livers and lungs.
An opt-out system would increase those numbers, prolonging lives by years or decades. In the meantime, registering as an organ donor is easy. People can sign up to be an organ donor when they obtain or renew their driver’s license, or they can register online at https://organdonor.gov/thankyou.html. It’s not just the recipient who benefits: Hickey lived to see his grandchildren, and his grandchildren had the chance to get to know their grandfather — all because someone kind became an organ donor.