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Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, MPH Headshot

The DMV Tried to Get Me to 'Just Say No!' to Organ Donation

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In a New York Times piece this month, Pauline Chen, a liver transplant surgeon, writes about checking the "yes" box on her renewed driver's license, committing herself to organ donation should she get into a tragic accident. Even this experienced physician said the question took her off-guard for a split second. One minute she was going through the mundane process of paperwork, the next minute contemplating her own death.

Everyone knows that our country suffers from a dearth of organs for those who desperately need them, particularly organs from minorities. Years ago, I wrote about the savvy promotional schemes to get more people to think about organ donation and to check the "yes" box. And yet, what happens in committee meetings that discuss clever marketing strategies is often very different from what happens in the real world.

Chen points to a study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It found that when people were asked to watch a five-minute video on their iPhones about organ donation before entering the DMV, donations increased compared to those who were not offered the video.

Oddly, when I went to renew my license, I obediently checked "yes." I'm hoping I'll be keeping my organs for the long run, but felt it was my civic duty to offer them up should the worst happen. And yet, when I went to hand in my forms, the woman behind the counter said:

"You realize you checked 'yes' for organ donation. Are you sure you really want to do that?"

I replied that I did.

"Really? Wow. You can change your mind."

I realize that a lot of people have issues with organ donation. But I think those who are promoting it, need to think about those on the frontlines and make sure their worthy efforts aren't being cobbled at the very last moment.

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