There was a lot going on here in Philadelphia the last weekend in September. The Pope was in town. The entire region was simultaneously hyped for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, on high alert for terrorism, and panicked about traffic.
But something else life-altering was going on that weekend for Deborah Husmann, who lives in nearby New Jersey. She received a new kidney.
After waiting 4 years on the transplant list, Husmann got a call that weekend that she finally had a kidney match. With help from a special ambulance and a state police escort, she made it across closed highways and bridges in time for her surgery in Philadelphia. Perhaps coincidentally, on a major organ donation awareness website right now, there’s a big picture of Pope Francis with his statement: “Organ donation is a testimony of love for our neighbor.”
There are over 122,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the United States, with another added every 10 minutes. I happen to know one of them – a woman whose own kidneys were damaged by cancer. I also have a neighbor who received a kidney last month, and a friend who received 2 lungs a few years ago after a virus destroyed both her own. Every day, approximately 22 people die waiting for an organ transplant. (Fortunately, I don’t know anyone in this category, at least not yet.)
The solution? More registered donors. And a single donor can save as many as 8 lives.
As an estate attorney, you can help – simply by providing information. Given that you are creating advance directives for clients, this is in your wheelhouse. And it doesn’t take much time. If even one of your clients in the course of your legal career becomes an actual organ donor, you will have helped save the lives of up to 8 people. To me, that’s quite powerful.
I want to be totally clear: of course, organ donation is a personal decision. Each client’s decision to register or not register as an organ donor is equally valid, and will be guided by their individual feelings, beliefs, spirituality, and/or religious affiliation. I am suggesting that your role can be to provide information, but it is certainly not to persuade.
Here are some things you can do with clients, and also marketing opportunities in your community, around providing information about organ donation:
- Does your advance directive include a section on organ donation? If not, add such a section to your advance directive form so clients can elect organ donation if they choose. Or, include a separate organ donor form at the end of your standard advance directive that clients can choose to complete, or not. Either way, you can use the language from your state’s online donor registry.
- Give clients a pamphlet about organ donation during your advance directive discussion with them, or at least display them in your waiting room. Free brochures are available here through organdonor.gov.
- Every April, offer existing clients the opportunity to join your state’s online organ donor registry. Send an email or newsletter article that provides a link to your state’s registry. Why April? Doesn’t have to be, but April is National Donate Life Month, and April 17 is National Donate Life Day. This makes sense – they’re piggybacking on April 16, which is National Healthcare Decisions Day.
- Consider working together with your local organ donor organization, to give a talk on advance care planning and how organ donation plays into it.
- If you know someone who has received an organ transplant who would feel comfortable sharing their story, invite them to give a talk for your clients about the importance of organ donation.
Some advance directive registries (including DocuBank) also provide organ donor stickers that can be placed on the registrant’s wallet card (and the driver’s license or health insurance card) to alert hospital staff of the donor’s intent. If your clients do choose to become organ donors, organdonor.gov suggests that they also do these things:
- Designate their decision on their driver’s license
- Tell their family about their donation decision
- Tell their physician, faith leader, and friends
- Include donation in their advance directives, will, and living will.
For more information on organ donation, visit donatelife.net, or any of the other main organ donation organizations, including organdonor.gov and unos.org.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 200,000+ enrollees are available 24/7/365 through the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., as well as access to an online safe for storage of digital assets and other vital documents. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the Philadelphia Estate Planning Council, the International Society of Advance Care Planning and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, Randi is active in health education and public engagement related to advance care planning/advance directives. She serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative and as a board member of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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