* * Anonymous Doc: "He's an organ donor-- so where should we drop off the organs?"

Friday, August 31, 2012

"He's an organ donor-- so where should we drop off the organs?"

I get paged by the son of one of my patients early this morning, a 94-year-old man in declining health, on hospice.  I call back--

"I wanted to let you know-- my father passed away during the night.  His aide woke up and checked on him, and he had stopped breathing."

"I'm so sorry."

"Thanks.  We haven't called the funeral home yet, because I wanted to find out-- I know he was an organ donor.  So I was wondering how we handle that process."

"Um, you should go ahead and call the funeral home, it's okay."

"No, he really wanted to help others who could use his organs."

"That's a very noble thing, and it's great that he made those wishes clear.  I wish more people would do that. Unfortunately, we can't use organs once the patient has been dead for any amount of time-- organs lose their function very quickly, so harvesting normally happens when the patient is brain dead but blood is still circulating.  So it's not practical to harvest organs from home, it's really when people die in a hospital setting."

"So if we removed the organs ourselves--"

"No, no--"

"No, I'm not saying we did that.  I'm just asking if we should."

"No, no, definitely not--"

"But you're saying we should have brought him in as soon as he died--"

"No, no, I think your father is very lucky he died at home, in his sleep, peacefully."

"But if he had died in the hospital, you could have used his organs?"

"Honestly-- and fortunately for your father, since he lived a long life-- he was past the age where we are able to use the organs.  I'm not an expert in this area, but it's not generally practical to transplant organs from people over age 50 or 60.  The organs tend not to be in good enough condition for transplant, even if they're still working quite well in their original owner."

"So I just want to be sure-- you do not want any of his organs.  We should not do anything, or bring anything to the hospital."

"No, but it's a lovely gesture.  Please give the rest of your family my deepest condolences."

"Oh, I also wanted to know if we needed to schedule an autopsy--"


  1. oh my, i laughed my tears out...i mean about the conversation, not about the old man's pass away
    i am glad the son called you before they remove any organ by themselves. :p
    by the way, i am kind of afraid about the whole organ donate thing. what if a patient has apparent death, but the doc mistakenly announced he is dead, so to get the "fresh" organ, they remove organ right after the death, will the patient feel the pain when they remove his organ?if so, then it will be horrible.
    okay, probably my question is silly, but i am not in medical field...

  2. Are you serious???

  3. Just a quick note...people can donate organs well into their 70s and 80s. The oldest recorded organ donor in the US was 94 years old. Please don't let age discourage anyone from registering to be an organ donor, which they can do at Donate Life America. You can also contact your local organ procurement organization for more information.

    However, you're right that this gentleman's organs could not have been used, due to the unattended nature of his death. How wonderful, though that he was so willing, and that his family wanted so much to follow through with his wishes.

  4. I hope people take whatever the OPO says with a grain of salt. They're not very transparent about their practices and chooses their words very wisely. For example, many parents say they want to donate their children's organs to other children because they don't want another family to go through what they are going through. In reality, the child's organs usually goes to adults. Katherine Brown-Saltzman, co-director of the ethics committee at UCLA Med, revealed this practice to my class. I guess it's not lying if this piece of information is not revealed to families, but it is manipulative. I know of a middle-aged woman who received a pair of kidneys from an infant.