A survey conducted by Donate Life America in 2011 reports that 50% of people wish to donate their organs after death, a number that has not changed much since 2004. I was curious as to why this number is so low when organ donation has shown to save so many lives. To look at this, I decided to look beyond the medical ‘facts’ and explore the anthropological side of organ donation including how minorities, of which there is even a greater demand for organs, have a negative history with the medical system, leading to distrust and a unwillingness to donate, as well as many of the myths that go along with organ donation and whether or not they are truly myths.
Other interesting statistics this 2011 survey reported were that 89% of individuals surveyed said that they want their wishes about organ donation to be followed, even if their family has different views. 55% believed that a person can recover from brain death. 29% believed that doctors will not try as hard to save the life of an organ donor. All three of these figures have increased since 2004. One final question this survey asked was whether or not a person’s organs should be donated unless they have specifically registered that they wished to not donate their organs, a presumed consent system, with which 58% of people surveyed agreed.
My research into this topic consisted of secondary research, reading anthropological, psychological, and clinical articles and books about organ donation, as well as looking at governmental websites that promote organ donation.
Donation decision factors
Objectification of the body
By objectifying the organs, they are completely separated from the person to whom they belonged. This allows people to realize that their organ can still be ‘alive’ even when they themselves. This also plays into religious aspects of organ donation. By separating the body from the self, people can believe that they can move on to whatever afterlife they believe in, even if their body is no longer whole. The objectified view of the body is the one that is typically used by medical staff and personnel, using terms such as ‘spare-parts’ to describe these organs, and giving recipients impressions that previously they had simply been ‘out-of-stock’. This allows organ transplantation and recipient to occur without thinking about the death that had to occur in order to save another patient’s life. 
On the other hand, the families of the donors tend to embody the organs more, holding the belief that a piece of their loved one is still living on in the recipient, as seen in the quote from Lauren Johnson. This gives the family comfort in their decision to donate their loved-one’s organs, knowing that they are still out there and helping people. 
Throughout history, African Americans have repeatedly been mistreated due their social status in American history. In the 1930s, there was a study known as the Tuskegee syphilis study where 600 African American men, 399 of whom had syphilis, were ‘treated’ for ‘bad blood’, a term that could refer to syphilis, anemia, or fatigue, in exchange for free medical exams, meals, and burial insurance . In reality, the men were not receiving proper medical treatment and the scientists conducting the study were interested in learning more about how the disease killed, literally just watching these men die. Another example of African Americans being targeted by medical malpractices was through Mississippi Appendectomies, where African American women underwent unnecessary hysterectomies, surgical removal of the uterus which renders the woman sterile, in order to keep the poor, African American population down, and allow new doctors to practice the procedure .
Such a history with the medical system can lead to cultural distrust of doctors, making the African American community less likely to donate, thinking the doctors will not try as hard to save their live if it is known that they are an organ donor, or thinking that their organs will be used preferentially to save a white person.
In a documentary about organ donation, many families speak on their decisions to donate their loved one’s organs. In most instances, their decisions seem to involve finding something positive coming from death :
These families have just given the gift of life. A gift that is not given with the intention that it will be repaid. When a person chooses to donate their organs posthumously, they realize they will no longer be around to receive any sort of reciprocation for this gift. The repayment for this gift goes to the families of the donor who, as evident from the quotes above, receive comfort in knowing that something good came out of their loved one’s death. Another reason people become donors is as a form of repayment. Some people choose to become donors because they, or someone they know, have been saved through organ donation. Others register as organ donors because they hope that if they ever need an organ there would be someone else willing to donate .
Donation and Religion
Declaration of Brain Death
Ways to Increase Donation
Alternatives to organ donation
While scientists have not progressed any of these alternative methods far enough for us to know how they will play into the anthropological issues that are seen hand-in-hand with the organ donation process, there are many potential benefits. People will not have to wait as long for an organ to become available that matches their blood type and tissue markers since artificial organs will not involve tissue types and engineered organs can be grown with specific blood types and tissue markers . This means that some people, especially those who have harder to match tissue types, might not have to wait as long for an organ. Organ recipients could be chosen less off of tissue and blood types and more on the severity of their illness. However, none of these articles discuss how expensive these other options will be and since they are being created rather than developed, they may be more expensive and people without healthcare may not be able to afford these alternate methods .
n.d. U.S. Government Information on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation. <http://www.organdonor.gov/index.html> Accessed December 5, 2012.
 Rodrigue, J.R., D.L. Cornell, and R.J. Howard
2006 Organ Donation Decision: Comparison of Donor and Nondonor Families. American Journal of Transplantation 6: 190-198.
 Donate Life America
2011 Organ and Tissue Donation National Perceptions and Attitudes. 8
March 2011. Donate Life America. <http://donatelife.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/2011-Research-Findings.pdf> Accessed April 5th, 2013.
 Sanner, Margareta A.
2003 Transplant recipients’ conceptions of three key phenomena in transplantation: the organ donation, the organ donor, and the organ transplant. Clinical Transplantation 17: 391-400.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2011 U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee. 14 June 2011. <http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm> Accessed April 6th 2013.
 Skloot, Rebecca
2012 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
 Health Resources and Services Administration
2009 No Greater Love [videorecording, 60 min]
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpVNhUeVuls&list=PLw9YaVfAm5mPV--7tb9hzw_E23TuGL_FX&index=7> Accessed December 7, 2012.
 American Academy of Neurology
1994 Practice Parameters: Determining Brain Death in Adults. American Academy of Neurology. <http://www.aan.com/practice/guideline/uploads/118.pdf> Accessed April 7th 2013.
 Lock, Margaret M.
2002 Twice dead: Organ transplants and the reinvention of death. California series in public anthropology; 1. Berkley: University of California Press.
 The Saratogian
March 31, 2013 Saratoga Hospital honors those who donate organs. The Saratogian. <http://saratogian.com/articles/2013/03/31/news/doc51586ee393278455183460.txt> Accessed April 5th, 2013.
 Donate Life America
2013 National Donate Life Month 2013. Donate Life America. <http://donatelife.net/ndlm2013/> Accessed April 5th, 2013.
 Medical News Today
October 21, 2011 Xenotransplantation from Genetically Engineered Pigs. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/236387.php> Accessed April 7th, 2013.
 McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
2013 Medical Devices and Artificial Organs. The University of Pittsburg and the University of Pittsburg Medical Center. <http://www.mirm.pitt.edu/programs/medical_devices/> Accessed April 5th, 2013.
 MIT News
December 14, 2012 Tissue Engineering: Growing new organs, and more. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. <http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/engineering-health-tissue-engineering-growing-organs-1214.html> Accessed April 7th, 2013.