We should all be organ donors
When friends asked Greg Segal, whose father waited five years for a heart transplant, how they could help, his answer was immediate: “Register as an organ donor.” Greg didn’t expect anyone to actually give a heart to his dad, but it bothered him that only twelve percent of his fellow New Yorkers were registered donors. When friends didn’t follow through and do it, Greg felt further distanced from them. So he stopped asking.
There is a strange disconnect in our society. Ninety-five percent of American adults support organ donation, but only fifty-four percent are actually signed up as donors. I could go on for pages about the long waitlists of sick people, and the number who suffer and ultimately die while waiting for a transplant, but it’s beside the point. People know organ donation is important. The better question is, why aren’t they registering?
Part of the answer is logistical, in that the traditional way of recording your wishes, through the DMV, was a tedious task to be avoided at all costs. That’s why Greg, inspired by his dad’s experience, cofounded Organize, which makes organ registry available through social media and streamlines the entire process. But I think there’s a deeper reason more people don’t register. It’s not apathy so much as an instinct to turn away from the topic as a whole, a subconscious part of us that says, If I don’t think about my death, maybe it won’t happen. It’s the same reason more than half of Americans don’t have a will.
I applaud all that Greg is doing with Organize, but I don’t think we’ll ever solve this problem until we make the topic of our own deaths less taboo. A UK company, Beyond, that offers price comparisons for funeral services agrees, and created an advertising campaign meant to break through the discomfort. It included ads such as two people running into the surf, but carrying coffins instead of surfboards. Or another that read, “Don’t get R.I.P’d off.” The campaign was met with significant push-back from a culture that simply would not be moved so far. “Truly awful,” “vile,” and “insensitive” were just a few of the negative reactions.
While I applaud the creativity of Beyond, I think we need an approach that’s a little more grassroots. When I started Death Over Dinner, a platform that guides users through having conversations about death, my goal was to change the way we talk about our mortality, one conversation at a time. We can make it safe to talk about death, whether we do so over candlelight, wine, and good food, on a walk, or in a social media post that signifies our wish to be a donor. Talking about death can bring us closer together, put us in touch with our humanity, and remind us what really matters.
The more we perpetuate the myth that not talking about our death will keep it at bay, the more we lose. When we live within the contradiction that organ donation statistics suggest, we lose the chance for connection, communication, and the richness and value that can come from facing our mortality head-on. We lose the chance to connect with the best part of ourselves, a part that could save a life.