Disadvantages of Organ Donation: What to Know

Updated October 25, 2018
cons of organ donating

Religious beliefs and fear of the unknown are only two of the several cons of organ donation. Some feel that ethics - both the patient's and the doctor's - also play a large role.

Organ Donation at a Glance

According to Donate Life America, there were a total of 138 million registered organ and tissue donors in the United States. While it is reported that 95% of adults in the U.S. support organ donation, only 54% are registered organ and tissue donors. However, the amount of people who actually need transplants is on the rise, topping out at more than 114,000 individuals on the national waiting list.

Why is it then that roughly 46% percent (nearly half) of the U.S. population who are eligible to be organ donors aren't even registered? Could it be that the benefits of organ donation do not outweigh the disadvantages?

Understanding the Cons of Organ Donation

While some may shun the thought of having their body buried without all of its organs, others don't have a problem with it. Besides not being a suitable donor, there are many reasons why individuals are against organ donation.

Religious and Ethnic Beliefs

Organ and tissue donation is a very personal decision, and most organized religions don't oppose it. Many encourage it and consider it an act of charity. However, some religious and ethnic groups do have stipulations:

  • Amish: Approves in organ donation if a person's life will definitely be improved or saved, but is reluctant to participate if the outcome of the transplant is questionable.
  • Gypsies (Romany): Because this group of people share common folk beliefs, they oppose any and all organ and tissue donation. They also believe that a body should be buried with all of its organs intact because the soul maintains its physical self for one year after the individual dies.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses: While organ donation is a personal decision, if one decides to go through with the procedure, all organs and tissues must be completely drained of blood first.
  • Shinto: The religion concurs with folk belief that a dead body is "impure and dangerous" and injuring a person after he or she dies is a "serious crime." Therefore, they do not support organ or tissue donation.

Fear of Unethical Selling and Buying of Organs

It's true, there is a black market out there for some types of donated organs, especially kidneys and most often, not in the United States. Countries including Bosnia, China, Ukraine, Iran, and Pakistan, where populations are poor, are frequently in the news because residents there illegally - and in some cases legally - sell certain human organs for cash. In the United States, selling your organs is illegal, although some argue that if individuals were paid for the viable organs upon their demise, those on the transplant waiting list may be helped a little sooner. But is buying human organs ethical if it is a matter of life or death? In some countries, citizens don't have much of a choice. Organs from living donors are transplanted from those living in Third World countries into prominent individuals living elsewhere. All because the money is needed for the donors to live. However, in others, organs are stolen. For instance:

  • Because of the Japanese cultural beliefs regarding the body after death, there are not many viable donors living there. For many years, affluent citizens went to countries such as Singapore and Taiwan to purchase organs from executed prisoners even though the inmates did not authorize the donation. This was outlawed in 1994 by the World Medical Association.
  • However, in China, it is still legal to remove and sell organs from executed prisoners without their consent, sometimes even on the eve of the execution when the individual is still alive.
  • In 2004, the director of Willed Body Program at the University of California, Los Angeles was arrested for illegally selling body parts and organs donated to the program by individuals who have died. The deceased individuals donated their bodies to science for research, but instead, the former head of the program received more than $1 million for the organs and body parts when sold on the black market.

Uneducated About the Process

Still, many Americans are unwilling to become donors simply because they don't understand everything that goes along with the procedure. To help with this, health care providers are working adamantly with organizations such as Donate Life America to ensure that both the patient and patient's family have a clear understanding as to what occurs when organs are donated and transplanted. Some myths, that help explain the cons of organ donating, include:

  • Donor would be unable to have an open-casket funeral
  • Under 18 is too young to donate
  • Patient is too old to donate
  • Family members will be billed if an organ donation occurs

Prolongs the Family's Grieving Process

Another issue with organ donation is can potentially arise with the donor's family. It may be necessary to keep a loved one on life support for an extended period in order to keep the tissues healthy that are to be donated. Unfortunately, this may give the family a sense of false hope since they are still seeing 'life' and this may intensify the grief as well.

Family May Have a Problem With the Recipient

The family may have a problem with the fact that they do not have a choice on who receives their loved one's organs. It simply goes to the next organ recipient on the list that is a match. This means someone of a different culture, ethnicity, political belief or religion could receive their loved one's organs and this may be difficult for some families to accept.

Cons of Living Organ Donors

The most common organs supplied by living donors are kidneys and liver. While being a living organ donor can be very rewarding, unforeseen circumstances can arise and there is no way to know in advance if there will be problems. Some cons of being a living donor include:

Medical Cons

Concentrating surgeons

There are short-term and long-term medical cons for being a living donor.

Short Term

Possible short-term cons may include:

  • Pain
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • Bulging of stitches
  • Pneumonia
  • Feeling sick, vomiting, diarrhea

Long Term

Possible long-term cons include:

  • Pain (chronic)
  • Scars
  • Adhesions from scars
  • Hernia

If you're a living kidney donor, you may experience high blood pressure, diabetes, loss of kidney function (25-35%), chronic kidney disease and bowel blockage. A small percentage of donors end up needing a kidney transplant themselves but you will get priority since you're a living donor.

Emotional Cons

Emotional short-term cons include worry or anxiety about the surgery itself and stress during the recovery process.

Long-term emotional cons could include anger if the patient's body rejects the organ. You may feel sadness or regret as well.

Financial Cons

Short-term financial cons include the cost of travel and lodging. Also, lost wages for time off work due to testing, surgery, and recovery.

Long-term financial cons include having difficulty getting health or life insurance or having to pay a higher premium after the surgery. There is also a chance you would have trouble being accepted into the military or having a career in law enforcement or with the fire department.

Cons of Mandatory Organ Donation

There is a definite need for more organ donors and mandatory organ donation has been considered as an option. The cons of mandatory organ donation include:

  • Organ donation, in general, may contradict personal, family or religious beliefs.
  • People would lose their rights and freedom to decide what happens to their body after death.
  • This change may not correlate with the deceased's wishes which could be very distressing for the family
  • This change could allow certain doctors to spend less time saving lives in order to secure an organ that is needed by a patient.

An opt-out system or a program to recruit more donors may be a better option than making organ donation mandatory.

Benefits of Organ Donation

Many people have considered the pros and cons of being an organ donor. They understand the benefits of organ donation and believe it is not only a privilege but a social responsibility. Organs donated from one individual can save eight lives and enhance the quality of about 50 lives. Other benefits of organ donation are:

  • It helps grieving families make some sense out of their loved one's death.
  • It allows some individuals to improve or have a better quality of life.
  • It is more cost-effective in the long run over the cost of lifelong medical care.

Weigh All Organ Donation Pros and Cons

When it really comes down to it, becoming an organ or tissue donor is really a personal decision that should be discussed with your next of kin, personal physician and spiritual leader. Before you sign up to be a donor, make sure you are completely educated about the process.

Disadvantages of Organ Donation: What to Know