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Medical study to improve organ donor process for families

Canadian Medical Association Journal publishes study on how things can be done better for families when there is a request for organ donations
110822_LG_Organ Donors Medical PHOTO Sized

There are better ways to help families when a loved one has died and there is a request for organ donation, said a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) this week. The study was published on Monday

The research was inspired by the stressful situations that result when family members are advised their loved one has died or is dying. At the same time health care professionals will speak to family members about consent to allow organs to be recovered.

The study was done by more than 20 physicians and researchers at such facilities as the Ottawa Hospital, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Hamilton Health Sciences, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons along with other universities and hospitals in every province of Canada.

The study said that in Canada, there are two pathways to organ donations.

"Families can be approached about organ donation after either neurologic determination of death or a decision to withdraw life-sustaining therapy," said the study. This would involve consulting with family members for both adult and pediatric patients.

One part of the study learned that it often happens that family members can have a hard time accepting the death of a loved one and are not fully ready to process the decisions to allow organs to be recovered from the body in a timely manner.

The study said it was found that families have three main experiences connected to the organ donor process; needing support at the time of the donation, connecting to the recipient patient, and follow-up support in the weeks and months after the donation.

The study said families and individuals need more support, more communication and more information in the process of giving consent to allow organ donations.

Family members also expressed a wish to have more information on who received the organs as it was found to ease the grieving process knowing that another person has life thanks to their loved one. Some family members also said that not knowing how the organs were used or donated to another patient only added to their grief.

A desire was also expressed by some family members to have a follow-up in the weeks and months following the death of their loved one. This could include things like mental health support and information on how to contact therapists. It was stated this would be especially important for younger people who might have lost a brother or sister, and are having difficulty in processing that loss.

The study published 20 suggestions for improving the organ donor process, based on interviews with roughly 250 family members, which included: 

  • Having a support person who has experienced a similar situation be able to meet families at the hospital to provide support and comfort; 
  • More clarity from medical professionals on things such as brain death and coma,
  • Offering the family time to spend final moments with their loved one before the organ recovery surgery begins,
  • Providing regular updates to the family on the organ recovery process and the status of the organs provided to the living recipients,
  • Offer mental health support to family members since it was learned that the organ donor process can complicate the grieving process. 

In conclusion, the study said that health care professionals and policy makers can ensure that the organ donor process has better communication with families and individuals involved.

"We have generated suggestions on how to improve the donation process that were derived directly from interviews with donor families. Some of these suggestions are not new, and hospitals and organ donation organizations should urgently implement them," the study said.

A full copy of the study can be downloaded here.


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