Teen Organ Donors

bibleThis is a very sad story from a friend of mine at work.  Her niece died in a pedestrian/car accident.  It was an accident plain and simple so there was no blame passed around.  She was 16 years old and was crossing a street in British Columbia and got hit by a car.

We live in Manitoba so the parents got this terrible news via the phone.  They made arrangements to fly to BC and bring her body home for the funeral.

When they got there they found out that their daughter had signed a donor card when she got her drivers license.  Her parents thought this was a good thing being that she wanted to help others in case of her death.  What they didn’t know was that she had signed for “complete donation” which meant EVERYTHING.  They found their daughter not in the morgue but on a respirator to keep everything “alive.”

They were shocked to say the least.  Their grief grew seeing the daughter who just looked asleep.  Now they tell the doctor that they want to take her body home to bury her and were told there would be “nothing” left to bury.  Her mother was horrified.  I’m not sure this doctor had the best bedside manner.  So a tug or war started.  The parents ended up giving in.

It got into the papers and it was on the news and these parents just wanted closure on their grief.  They thought in the end it was what their daughter wanted so they just let it go and hoped everyone that got her skin, eyes, hair and everything else, did okay with it all.

But this leads me to question if a 16 year old should be signing something like this with no word to the parents.  If it’s to be legal and binding, shouldn’t the parents have to sign something too? This kind of thing is getting a lot of attention right now in Canada. It’s starting to come into the schools about how important organ donation is.

I would feel good and proud of any of my kids that felt this way and I would support it but I’d really like to know about it.  This is what my girlfriend also said.  Had her sister known, it would have made all the difference in the world to her but it was such a shock.  I think the biggest shock was seeing her daughter laying there looking “alive” but asleep.

What’s your take on this?

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27 Responses to Teen Organ Donors

  1. SKL says:

    Wow. I wonder what the US law is on this.

    I think a minor’s promise in this situation shouldn’t be valid without the parents’ prior consent. This should be written into the law so that parents don’t have to confront this type of thing at the moment of their grief.

    As for that doctor, he is simply a jerk. I believe that most doctors would put the parents’ wishes ahead of what a minor wrote, regardless of the law. Now that his behavior has been reported to the public, I’d be surprised if they don’t push for very strict controls on teen organ donations – making it harder for organs to be donated even when the parents approve.

    Personally, I used to sign the donor card when I was young because I felt like it was a nice thing to do for strangers. One day (as a mature adult) I realized that this ignored the feelings of my parents. If something were to happen to me and my parents rushed to my death bed, I would rather their wishes be honored regarding my body. I have told them that I like the idea of donating my organs, but if the question comes up, they are free to decide either way.

    I’m told that it’s very rare that organs can be harvested from someone who wasn’t in the hospital for some time before the death. So this dilemma probably doesn’t come up unexpectedly very often.

  2. Wow, I can’t even imagine how rough it must have been for this girl’s parents, seeing her on a respirator after being told she had died…
    I agree with you to an extent – the parents should know about this. Maybe not need to sign, but at least be informed somehow. I mean, if a sixteen-year old is deemed adult enough to handle a weapon of such lethality that is the modern car, they should be able to sign a contract for donating their organs upon death.
    I think probably part of the big problem here was this doctor who told them something like “There won’t be anything left,” because that’s just a horrible, horrible thing to tell a parent.

  3. thegoddessanna says:

    I too signed up to be an organ donor when I got my license nearly 10 years ago (that’s a weird thing to think about in itself). I told my mom, though, and she agreed it was my choice – I was mature enough to get a license, which meant I was mature enough to be put behind a machine that I was responsible for (and that could injure/kill others). I know that if I had been killed, and my body kept “alive” for others, it would have been hard for my mom period. I feel for the parents’ pain, but in the end, they should be proud that their daughter made that decision and that so many would benefit. I agree that the doctor displayed horrible bedside manners, and it’s not true that nothing would be left. There would be enough to cremate, which would give them something to take home.

    I know this took place in Canada, but since here in America minors can be organ donors too, it gives me something to think about. At 16, in certain states, a girl can sign up to be an organ donor or get an abortion without parental consent, but can’t take an Advil at the nurse’s office without a signed letter from the parents. Or donate blood (17 is the minimum). Heck, at 17, I had to have my mother’s permission to join the military. I don’t know what, but there’s something off about this – we give teens adult decisions to make (driving, organ donation, what to do with their bodies), and yet we also restrict them in asinine ways (permission slips).

    I am no longer an organ donor; my will specifies that if something is needed, my husband is the one who makes this decision, and that my mother has no say. His will is similar – we don’t want our parents and our bereaved spouses to fight over the body at an inopportune time. His parents were a little pissed (although they tried to hide it) when he switched his death benefits from them to me, and we’re currently having an on-again off-again fight about him wanting to go overseas to Iraq (MIL doesn’t want him in danger, I say he’s an adult and it’s his damn decision if he wants to fill a billet that will make him more money and it plenty damn safe.). I bring this up, because it’s important for these things to be out in the open, that parents and significant others should be aware of everyone’s final wishes. So maybe when the next 16yo signs up to be an organ donor, something can be said to the teen that they really should let their parents know, to save a bit of possible future pain.

  4. Elena says:

    I agree, if you’re grown up enough to drive, you’re grown up enough to donate organs.

    However, is there seriously NOTHING left? No bones, no nothing? Not that the parents would want to look at what was left, but is there no way that the parents could be given a closed container that would represent her (containing what was left) if they didn’t want to cremate her. It just seems like the hospital, which is profiting hugely off this tragedy, might be able to arrange something that would make it easier for the family.

  5. kwoneshe2 says:

    Hmmm, tricky. Like others, I’d think the parents would have to agree. I mean, they are still considered minors until 18. They can’t enter into legal contracts or anything else, so it seems odd that a kid signing the card could be binding….

  6. nikki says:

    First of all, this is just horrible!!! I do think that under 18 parents should have to sign anything that a minor signs, especially something as important as this. Not that her parents would have disagreed with it but they would have been prepared for it.

  7. Joy says:

    I’m big on organ donation and I have signed my drivers license. By the time I’m done with everything, maybe none of me will be any good anymore!!!! But I’ve also told everyone. Everyone knows what both Paul and I want so there is no “shock” value there.

    I’ve talked with Lisa about this and that’s what the deal here was. SHOCK. The parents could have fought it but it was now in the media and they figured their daughter wanted this since she signed it. They just wished she would have told them.

    That doctor sure does sound like a jerk. I can’t even imagine how that mother felt when he told her “there would be nothing left.” I agree with Elena, there had to have been “something” that hospital could have given them so they could have had a service for her and get their closure that way. Man, the shock of seeing her there like that. Horrible for those parents.

  8. I agree, that doctor could have, and should have, been a great deal more sensitive about the whole issue. Organ donation is a very personal decision, and a very sensitive issue for those surviving afterward. The way that we acknowledge the death of someone in this nation is by having a body to grieve, for sure. So, at least have some compassion for what that does to parents of a teenager of all things…..

    I am not sure what I think about the age of consent, but I do agree that parents or some next of kin should at least be notified of the decision, somehow…… the other thing is, my hope would be that such a decision made by a newly licensed teen driver would be a well informed one; here, they provide a great deal of detailed information when you express that interest in donation.

    Very tragic circumstances, indeed….

  9. SKL says:

    I should point out that the reason I leave the decision to my parents is that they are my next of kin (I’m unmarried). It would be up to my husband if I were married, and eventually, once my parents are no longer in the role that they would be the ones making my funeral arrangements, then I’d probably sign the donor card and inform my kids and friends of the decision.

    I was a fairly mature 16-year-old (I was in college before I got my dr. license), yet I wasn’t mature enough to think about all the possible repercussions of a decision like this. Especially since organ donation is basically “marketed” with only the pros presented. A minor can’t even legally change his/her name. I feel this is one promise that ought to wait a couple more years. Otherwise I feel as though someone’s taking advantage of the naivete of teens. I understand the arguments about driving a car, but a car is just a machine; I don’t think that’s really comparable to this.

    I remember when my granny died, and my mom and her brother had to arrange her funeral. They wanted an open casket, for whatever reason. I don’t know why, but it was important to them. This is probably what made me think again about my ideas regarding donor cards, living wills, etc. Personally, the last thing I want to think about is an open casket, but when the time comes, I’m not the one whose emotions will be at stake. So I have told my family how I feel about things, but it’s up to them if they feel differently.

    I can’t help but think that if someone donated her “whole body,” it would be used for medical students to practice on. I’m sorry, but I don’t want my end to be that way. Vital organs to sustain another person’s life, yes. Dissection for the sake of it, no, I’m sorry.

  10. mssc54 says:

    My heartfelt condolances to the family, especially the parents.

    Isn’t is odd that a 16 year old student can not take a Tylenol without going to the school nurse but they can donate their organs without their parents’ permission?

  11. Joy says:

    Yes is is odd mssc. I thought that myself when I read this.

  12. Tessa says:

    My thoughts are with those parents and family. How hard it must be to let go. I have been an organ donor also since I was 16, and I think it is a great idea for the parents to know this and what it means, but I also believe it is up to each of us to decide what we want done with our bodies. At 16 yrs old, I believe you are old enough to decide this. It would be sad if the parents said no and it was legal for them to decide that if it is what the teen wants.

  13. Tessa says:

    Yea, when I was 16 I remember all of us teenagers did as we pleased when it came to things involving decisions with our bodies!! True or false for you out there? No one asked the nurses permission to take tylenol, you know? Kids were taking worse things in the hallways. I remember Eric had to go to the school nurse to take Ritalin, but he would pretend and not take it. Teenagers have more smarts than we think.

  14. mssc54 says:

    Tessa… I would agree that teenagers are more caniving than we give them credit for but as for being smart…

    If teenagers were half as smart as they believe they are that would be awesome!

  15. Amy Hunter says:

    For some reason I find the idea of nothing being left disturbing. I always check on my license to donate my organs, although I never really talked to my parents about it. I guess because I figure there’d be *something* of me for them to cremate or bury, and what’s a few organs gone missing? But if they were truly left with nothing, I wouldn’t donate.

    I feel bad for the girl’s parents. How could you fight that without a bunch of people saying you were doing the wrong thing? Because I bet there are people who would say so in a public case like that. How awful.

    From LifeSource, the organization that handles organ donations in Minnesota:

    Will my body look different if I donate my organs and tissues?

    Donation is a surgical procedure. As in any other medical procedure, the body is treated with great respect and dignity. Donation does not prevent an open-casket funeral service.


    There’s also a notice on their consent form that persons under the age of 18 need parental permission to consent to donation.

  16. Joy says:

    I’m not sure quite how to take what you said Tessa. Eric was supposed to take that Ritalin so how was it smart for him not to take it? I don’t mean to sound argumentative but he needed to take it at the time. I feel “most” teens simply feel they know it all and they are really only interested in doing what their parents tell them not to do. I love teenagers too so this isn’t a slam. I’m just not sure what you meant by that.

  17. SKL says:

    As a teen, I used to get mad at my mom like all teens – she was unfair, etc. I wasn’t one to talk back much, but I would write about it in my journal. One day I dreamed that my mom found my journal and read it and cried. That dream upset me so much, I woke up crying, and afterwards was much more careful about what I did that might affect my parents.

    About the organ donation though, I am sure I didn’t give any thought to how my parents would feel if I died and that was how they found out about my choice. Teens don’t seriously think they might die before their parents. Maybe I am making too big a deal out of this, but it just rubs me the wrong way that parents’ rights to take care of their child can be signed away in this way. This is their child, and suddenly they are faced with the knowledge that there is only one more thing they can do for her – and that’s lay her to rest. But only if she didn’t sign that card. No, it doesn’t sit right with me at all.

  18. Joy says:

    Amy, thank you for taking the time to give us that link. It’s a sad thing isn’t it?

  19. Sue says:

    Amy, thanks for the info! The hospital I work in does organ donation BUT NOT WITH “viable” organs. So, when someone passes away (and not on life support) a team from the Twin Cities comes out and “harvests” different tissuse. Skin, bone, corneas ect. There’s still a body that goes back to the funeral home to be prepared for burial. That doctor sounded like a complete jerk!

    When my uncle was hurt in a work accident, he spent 1 week in the hospital on life support b/4 he died. I can remember my aunt talking about how they wanted to do organ donation and to my knowledge she said no. He was recesitated(?) at the scene of the accident, but never regained conciousness. He was a healthy young man that could have benefited a lot of people and even with a week of thinking about it she still said no. It comes down to communication and knowing what your family members want. If I’m dead, I don’t need my organs anymore! Just make sure I’m dead with no hope of recovery!

    I think at 16 you should be able to decide that for yourself, but I like that we here in MN have a parental consent for those under 18. I also think that even if my driver’s license says I’m a donor and something happens, my husband can still say no. Does anyone know for sure?

  20. Tessa says:

    Joy, I can see how what I said is confusing. Sometimes I contradict myself or have trouble explaining what I mean!! :/
    I took a class with Eric, helped him study for his G.E.D test, his EMT class, and so on…He, like many other kids/teens, was more capable then the professionals gave him credit for. He told me 1/2 the reason he had no focus was due to the fact that they had him in special ed classes that were too easy for him. He felt they thought he was stupid, so he decided why try?
    My point is-Eric didn’t need the ritalin-and he knew it. I believe he was smart to stop taking it. Many times drugs cause symptoms that are worse than the diagnosis. Eric said he could focus more, but he lost himself on Ritalin. With someone to believe in him and studying material that challenges him, he focuses probably twice as hard as he would on Ritalin.
    Sorry, didn’t mean to go into this so deep!! It’s a topic that gets me going! I like a debate, so no harm done Joy! It’s a touchy subject with people.
    I agree with you too that teens are that way! I definitely was defiant and thought I knew it all!! I just mean that teens do know what they want when it comes to something like organ donation.

  21. Tessa says:

    I think there are kids with ADD or ADHD, but it should only be like 2% of the population. Way too many kids are being diagnosed. Boys learn differently than girls do usually, so I really hope that the education system starts to address this instead of sweeping it under the rug and stop handing a narcotic medication to a child that has a developing brain who could improve with a different learning style. Ritalin is a potent drug, and can be harmful if overused or used for a long time.

  22. Tessa says:

    This could be a good blog topic for ya! On my page I posted a paper I wrote on it that has lots of info about the ADD epidemic- http://www.myspace.com/tfroom

  23. nikki says:

    As a mother with a child with ADHD, I have first hand knowledge and awareness of exactly what it is. Although the long term affects of using meds for treating ADHD aren’t known, I chose to put my son on them. Do you know exactly what goes on in the brain of someone with ADHD? I’m no advocate for any ADHD medicine, but I’m not against them either. So far they have done wonderful things for Bailey. It has nothing to do with how smart the child is. It helps them focus on what needs to be focused on. It’s typical for kids with ADHD to not put any effort into anything of no interest. I do plan on trying new and natural ways of treating Bailey this summer. But if nothing I try works he will be put back on meds. By not treating ADHD, in any way whether it be with meds or balancing treatments or natural medicine, it’s not giving them the opportunity to live up to their full potential. I feel g

  24. nikki says:

    I was trying to say, I feel guilty every day and pray I have made the right decision, for right now I believe I did.

  25. Joy says:

    I’m going to write a post about ADHD. This is turning into something else and I think it’s a good subject and can be expanded.

    I think you did the right thing Nikki. We’ll discuss this next week.

  26. Tessa says:

    Now that we have Ben, I can totally relate already to the guilt. We have to vaccinate Ben tomorrow or anyday, and I feel guilt either way-if I get all the shots the docs recommend or if I skip some I think are unnecessary. I have been reading about how many think too many shots too soon is causing other disorders and problems later on…I know that must have been a hard decision Nikki and I think you’re a great mom! Nikki, I was just saying I think Eric was smart to stop taking them. I think that was right for him. I believe some people do need the medications. I also believe there is more than one way to focus, and better ways then medication. I think that is wonderful you are going to try natural ways with Bailey. Good for you guys! It is highly effective from what I have read.

  27. Tessa says:

    My mom says being a grandma is all the love without the guilt or worry, I cannot wait for that stage in life!!!

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