Elijah Smith, 21, was struck by a hit and run driver in the early hours of July 3rd while riding his bicycle home from work. Doctors determined he was brain dead the following day. When applying for his drivers' license months before, Elijah indicated that he wanted to be an organ and tissue donor. However, he never told his family of his wishes.
When Elijah's parents were approached to obtain their consent for the recovery of Elijah's organs, they declined, and they declined very vehemently. In conversations I have had with representatives from OPO's (organ procurement organizations) since my transplant, I have been told that in such situations the OPO will not push the issue and defer to the family's wishes. However, in Elijah's case, Lifeline of Ohio filed a lawsuit in order to get a court order allowing the recovery of Elijah's organs and tissues despite the objections of his parents.
In the article "Family Loses Fight to Keep Son's Organs from Donation" on www.dispatch.com, it says that neither Donate Life America nor the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) knows of any other instances where a lawsuit has been filed by an OPO to force a donation. So, this is the first time it's been done.
The judge hearing the case ruled in favor of Lifeline of Ohio because, according to Ohio law, only the donor can amend or revoke their consent to be a donor. So, I cannot fault the judge in this case. He followed the law. However, I can and do find fault with the OPO - Lifeline of Ohio. Their lawsuit going against the wishes of grieving parents is unconscionable.
|Map of Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
At the time a family is approached to obtain their consent so that their loved one can donate their organs and tissues, they are already upset, hurt, in shock, in distress, and fragile emotionally. Depending on the circumstances of their loved one's death, they may even be angry. Their emotions can vary, especially if their loved one passed due to an accident or as the victim of a violent crime. They may already be dealing with more than some can handle. It is not the time for an OPO, or anyone else, to impose their will by means of a lawsuit.
Here's the main concerns and problems I have with Lifeline of Ohio's actions :
- One thing I've learned in the 43 years I've been on this earth is that there is what's legal, and there is what's right. Those two things are not necessarily the same. The Elijah Smith story is a case in point. Was it legal for Lifeline of Ohio to sue in order to facilitate the donation? Yes. According to Ohio law, did the judge rule correctly? Yes. Even though this was all legal, was it right? ABSOLUTELY NOT!! It was just wrong. Lifeline of Ohio forced grieving parents to do something they did not want to at the time of their 21-year-old son's tragic death.
- Because of their actions, at a time when we need more registered organ and tissue donors, I fear Lifeline of Ohio may have hurt the cause of organ and tissue donation. The ones of us who tirelessly advocate and educate the public in order to increase the number of donors constantly battle against myths, rumors, and other negative PR regarding organ donation. These jokers have dug us a hole.
- I can't help but wonder how many people Lifeline of Ohio's actions have negatively affected to the point that they either will never register as organ and tissue donors, have already registered but will now revoke their election, or, if approached by an OPO representative will say "NO" when asked to consent to donating a loved one's organs. It could cost the lives of people on the waiting list.
- It is reasonable to assume that the Smith family now has a very negative opinion of organ and tissue donation. I imagine that if asked, they will be more than happy to voice it, too, and no one can blame them considering how they were treated. One could make a good case that they were bullied. The cause of organ and tissue donation does not need any personal stories with negative PR. Once again, it could cost lives.
- After my transplant, I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to try to contact my donor's family. I wanted to say "thank you." The recipients of Elijah's organs likely will, too. Most recipients do. However, will the Smith family want to be contacted? If they are, will they respond? I think it's reasonable to think they will not. They might not want to risk re-opening the wound created by Lifeline of Ohio. In addition to the Smith's, the recipients then also pay for the "sin" of Lifeline of Ohio. Sad.
To Lifeline of Ohio, I say "shame on you." What the heck were you thinking? You guys have done some great work and helped save and improve many lives in the past. However, this time you flat blew it, and this is the type of thing people remember. In this heart transplant recipient's opinion, whomever gave the approval to file the lawsuit in this situation should be fired. No one should be treated the way the Smith's were.
I want to encourage every one whom has already registered as an organ and tissue donor, and the ones of you who will do so in the future, to please, please, please tell your family and discuss it with them. It is so, so important that they know your wishes ahead of time. It will give them a sense of comfort and peace at the time of your passing, because they will not have to guess what your wishes are, or be blind-sided, as the Smith's were. Talking about it will make things easier for everyone involved.
Additionally, I should state that the type of treatment the Smith's received from Lifeline of Ohio is extremely, extremely rare. OPO's are usually made up of kind, considerate, and compassionate individuals. Please do not let this situation, this one bad apple, negatively influence your opinion of the whole lot or of organ and tissue donation in general. Donor families I have talked to since my transplant have bragged about how well they were treated. Usually, the fact that their loved one helped someone else with what amounted to their final act gave them peace and comfort in their time of grief.
In my opinion, the way the Smith family was treated is indicative of a prevailing problem in the U.S. today. So many times, it seems that we just don't have any respect for each other. We don't think of "the other guy." It's all about "me." "No, I want it my way," is often the prevailing theme. It seems to be the way Lifeline of Ohio dealt with the Smith family. Respect and sympathy seemed to be lacking towards the Smith's during their time of loss. Lifeline of Ohio had to have it their way and went to court to make it so. Just wrong ... and terribly sad.
I so wish we could get to a place in this country where we treated each other with kindness and respect. It would prevent situations like this one. Unfortunately, it is beginning to appear that I have a better chance of hitting the Powerball than I do of seeing that happen.
Isn't it sad?