Do Not Allow Smokers to Donate Organs

UNOS credit taberandrew via flickr

Target: United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)

Goal: To ensure the health and quality of life of those on the organ transplant list by not allowing smokers to donate organs.

Blood and organ donation has had such an effect on modern medicine that to donate blood or an organ is to literally give the gift of life. Without this altruistic advancement, thousands more would die every day. Unfortunately, the need for organ donation is still great; there are over 80,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list in the U.S. and about 17 people die every day while waiting for an organ. However, just because the need for organ donation is great does not mean that we should treat those on the transplant waiting list with the mentality of “beggars can’t be choosers.” Sign this petition and urge UNOS not to allow smokers to donate their organs.

Smoking has a disastrous effect on health and although it is most commonly associated with lung cancer, smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. Smoking causes plaque to build up in your arteries, sores and ulcers to form in your mouth and digestive tract, and is directly linked to several cancers. Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. and is responsible for one in every five deaths in the U.S. each year. Why then does UNOS allow smokers to donate their organs?

There are of course strict guidelines for consent that both organ donors and recipients, as well as their physicians, must follow which outline the risks associated with any transplant. These risks range anywhere from danger associated with the transplant in general, to the recipient’s body not accepting the organ, to transmissible infection, to the immunosuppressants given with the transplant possibly increasing the risk of infection or cancer developing post transplant. But the outweighing factor on just one side of the equation is that in many cases, without the transplant, the recipient will die. Most will gladly accept any organ that they are offered.

To allow smokers to donate organs is akin to showing rotten food to a starving person and asking if they still want it. It is cruel and in many cases, has proven to negatively affect the health and quality of life of the recipient post transplant. Transplant recipients have quickly developed cancer from a donated organ that at the time of donation had either been too small to see or had been overlooked in the desperate attempt to save the recipient’s life. In a recent case reported in the BBC, a 27 year-old woman died 16 months after a lung transplant due to lung cancer brought on by the heavy smoking of her donor. At the time of the transplant, her family states that not one doctor discussed the added risks of accepting an organ from someone who had smoked. Her doctors maintain that the lungs were clinically healthy. The transplant of a damaged organ in addition to the immunosuppressants given to aid in the recipient’s body not rejecting the organ may have all been variables contributing to the development of the cancer and the very sudden death of this young woman.

The idiom “beggars can’t be choosers” means that those who are in dire circumstances and who depend on the generosity of others should not question what they are given. This is no way to run any health care system let alone the organ transplant system–a gift of life or death that so many depend on. The Department of Health should encourage people not to smoke, but more importantly, UNOS should not consider those people who have purposefully and knowingly poisoned their bodies with cigarettes and alcohol to be acceptable donors. Just because we are in desperate need for organ donors does not mean that we should potentially harm the health and quality of life of the recipient by accepting damaged organs. Sign this petition and urge the Department of Health and UNOS to not allow smokers to donate their organs.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Acting Chief Executive Officer: Brian M. Shepard,

Smoking is responsible for one in every five deaths that occur in the U.S. each year. It is directly linked to several major cancers as well as heart disease and the destruction of blood vessels. With all of this knowledge about the disastrous effects of smoking on the body, why do you still allow smokers to donate organs?

The guidelines set in place for physicians, donors, and recipients to review the risks associated with the transplant are outweighed by the main reason why the transplant is needed in the first place: the recipient will die without a new organ. Most will gladly accept any organ that they are offered. However, despite their dire circumstances, they should still be offered the highest level of care that is possible. This simply cannot be done if organs collected from smokers are allowed on the viable transplant list.

Recovery from an organ transplant is hard enough without the recipient having to worry about the added health risks associated with accepting an organ from someone who knowingly and purposefully poisoned their body. It is your job to ensure the safety and efficiency of organ transplant and as such it is also your job to attempt to give the recipient the best possible quality of life post transplant that is possible from organ donation. You cannot do this if you accept damaged organs from smokers. Please, just because the need for organ donation is greater than the number of donors, do not lower your standards for the health and safety of transplant patients by allowing smokers to donate damaged organs.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: taberandrew via flickr

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8 Comments

  1. Paul Johnston says:

    I am personally a smoker, i smoke between 5 and 10 a day yet i would still like to donate my organs if they are healthy enough. i dont see an issue and even if i wasnt a smoker and needed an organ donation i would not have an issue with an organ from someone that smokes if they were willing to give it to me to save me. In my eyes i dont see an issue with anyone donating if the organs work well enough.
    I would like to see other peoples views on this though.

    • Well if it is risky or dangerous as suggested by this article, I don’t see why you would put someone under a risk. although it is good that you have a heart to help people. Probably if there was no other choice or no one else could donate I don’t see why you couldn’t. Otherwise, in my opinion it is best to stray away from the risks. And also I suggest stopping smoking is also a good idea! 😉

      • The article only gives one example of a woman who received a lung from a donor who smoked. It also states that every day 17 people die while waiting for an organ donation. How much higher would that number be if smokers were barred from donating organs? There is a shortage of donors as it is. The article fails to provide any evidence that receiving an organ from a donor who smoked is worse than death.

        If they really cared about organ donation recipients, they would be writing a petition to require organ donation be an opt-out system, instead of opt-in.

  2. They allow smokers to donate because we already do not have enough donors to save enough sick people. I’m sure that the people on their death bed awaiting an organ would be thrilled to receive an organ even if the donor had smoked. It is life or death. These people have many more worries than whether or not their donor was a smoker. We need donors to save people whether smokers or non smokers. If they stopped allowing smokers to donate, even more people would die. Simple as that.

  3. The thing is the woman needed a lung transplant, so obviously something wasn’t right with hers. Wether it be from smoking or anything else. She needed new lungs. Nobody forced her to take new lungs. She could have died 16 months prior with the lungs she had. So somebody else gave her another 16 months. Yes that is very sad. Not very long. But she did receive extra life from the transplant. I personally wouldn’t take a transplant. If I’m dying I’m dying. I don’t want some false hope and then make it a little while longer and leave family with crazy bills. I smoke less then half a pack a day for 5 years. Don’t take my beat up parts. But there has to be something in every smokers body that is usable. They don’t have to take everything out of me. But if ONE person can benefit from ONE thing in my body then I feel good about it. If not, then nobody is any worse then if I just wasn’t a donor at all.

  4. This would really limit the amount of people who could be donors. I’ve read articles to the contrary of this stating that university studies show the survival rate for lungs from a smoker vs a non smoker are just about the same. You might think that a person who is in need of a lung transplant might have a better chance with a smokers lungs than with their own. Or maybe smokers just couldn’t donate their lungs, whatever, just don’t ban all smokers from donating.

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