‘The Organ Wagon’s On Its Way!’

Given my usual tendency to (over)indulge in a bit of “tin-foil-hattism,” it’s hard for me to read this sort of thing without freaking out:

A special team will monitor 9-1-1 calls about people in danger of dying and they will travel directly to a person’s home without being summoned.

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The team — composed of two EMTs, an organ donor family services specialist and a Bellevue emergency physician — will interact with grieving and shocked family members in the limited time available before it is too late to use a person’s organs. A police detective will arrive at the scene before the team to make sure there’s nothing about the death that warrants a criminal investigation.

Team members will be sent to the scene in a specialized “Organ Preservation Ambulance,” but will only enter the home after a person has been declared dead. Once there, they must determine whether the person is a registered organ donor and they must check whether the person has any medical conditions — such as cancer or AIDS — that would eliminate them as candidates.

The team members are being told that they have 50 minutes from the time the potential donor dies to the time the donor’s body is placed in the ambulance.

So, let me get this straight. These uninvited team members are showing up moments after a loved one’s death — a time when many family members are likely to be more than a bit emotionally disoriented. They have been given an extremely small “window of opportunity” in which to convince the aforementioned discombobulated family members that their extremely recently deceased relative would have wanted to donate their organs — or, perhaps more chillingly, convince the family that their relative’s organs should be donated whether he/she expressed that opinion while alive or not. Add into that last equation the little fact that this convincing might well require them to ask a number of probing, potentially embarrassing questions about the deceased’s medical past. And that the “organ donor family services specialist” will almost certainly be trying to extract a significant decision from a group of people that are not operating at their full capacity.

Even without my tin-foiled concerns about whether or not everyone’s motivations can be kept “pure and unbiased” in these sorts of organ donation situations, the chance that this program will introduce an unwelcome (and unwarranted) intrusion into the homes of grieving (and potentially hostile) people seems near 100%.

It’s being funded by the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Service Administration. And organizers say that it “could be declared a success without a single organ being recovered.” So don’t worry; we’re in good hands on this one.


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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