Organ donors too scarce

Jasett Chatham

Ethics and the urgent need for organ donors were up for discussion Thursday night at the first event ever held by Northwestern’s newly formed chapter of Students for Organ Donation.

Philosophy Prof. Mark Sheldon led the round-table talk in the Penn State room at Norris University Center. Sheldon told the 12 students who attended that it’s never too early to consider organ donation.

Organ donor facts:

  • On average, one person is added to the nation’s transplant waiting list every 13 minutes.
  • Each day an average of 17 people on the transplant list die – one person every 85 minutes.
  • Each donor can save up to eight lives and improve up to 50 lives.


“We’re talking about something in short supply and we want to distribute it fairly,” Sheldon said. For example, some donors believe alcoholics should not be allowed to receive new livers because they want to give their organs to people who are not going to abuse them, he said.

Amy Millar, the chapter’s president, started the group about a month ago. Although the group will not officially apply for university group status from the Associated Student Government until Feb. 28, it already has 30 members. It will be the first chapter in Illinois.

The organization was founded in 2003 and has since grown to include more than 50 chapters at universities in the U.S. and Canada.

The NU group plans to focus on educating students and making it easier for them to become organ donors, said Kunal Modi, the chapter’s vice president.

“People don’t recognize that huge potential that they have to give life back to someone that is suffering,” he said.

It’s through telling a personal story that Modi, a Weinberg senior, said he wants to open people’s eyes. Modi’s father, who was on dialysis for two years, received a kidney five years ago.

By telling his father’s story, Modi said he hopes to encourage students to donate who are skeptical of becoming donors or uninformed of the urgent need for organs.

“It’s not an issue that is automatically the first thing on someone’s list or someone’s mind until it has an impact on their lives,” Modi said.

Group member Kellie Mitchell’s 16-year-old brother has a rare kidney disease.

“With the disease he has, most people lose their kidney by the time they hit 20,” the Medill junior said. “(Organ donation) struck me as something that interests me because it hits me personally.”

In April group members plan to take part in the nationwide Donate Life Week, in which they want to hold awareness events and have a table at Norris for students to register as organ donors.

As of Jan. 1, Illinois became the 43rd state to implement a first-person donor consent law. Individuals can now register as organ and tissue donors through the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. More than 100,000 state residents registered in the first month.

The state’s previous registry system required the deceased’s family to consent before organs were released. Nearly 20 percent of consenting donors on the old registry had their decision overturned by relatives, according to the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, which is based in Elmhurst, Ill.

People on the old registry will have to re-submit their information to be covered under the new law.

Aside from spreading awareness, Mitchell emphasized the need to correct the misimpressions surrounding organ donation.

Some people think that if emergency room doctors know you’re an organ donor, they won’t work as hard to save your life, she said.

“Dispelling the myths is important,” she said.

Reach Jasett Chatham at [email protected]