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Are movies, TV scaring off organ donors?

A lot of misconceptions about organ donation are being fed by the entertainment industry, warns Susan Morgan, a Purdue University health communications expert.
/ Source: Reuters

A lot of misconceptions about organ donation are being fed by the entertainment industry, warns Susan Morgan, a Purdue University health communications expert who is tracking how organ donation is portrayed on TV and trying to dispel myths about organ donation in the workplace.

Emotionally charged television shows have featured fictitious stories about a black market for organs, doctors who murder their patients for their organs, or who declare death prematurely to take their organs, Morgan told Reuters Health.

“Until we can persuade writers and producers to stop deliberately using false, medically and logistically impossible plot lines involving organ donation, the public will continue to believe in so many myths about donation — and too many people will refuse to donate” as a result, Morgan said.

Surveys Morgan and others have conducted confirm that people very often believe that what happens on their favorite TV show is real, especially medical and crime dramas.

Compounding the problem, Morgan said, there is “a huge amount of distrust” of both the medical system and the organ allocation system. For example, many people are thoroughly convinced that rich, famous or well-connected people are much more likely to get organ transplants than ordinary people, she said.

“We’ve learned that we have to counter the most prevalent myths in order to get people to consider donating their organs after they die,” Morgan said. She’s working with the New Jersey Workplace Partnership for Life, which provides tailored health campaigns in workplace settings, to dispel myths about organ donation in some 45 New Jersey companies and organizations. The project is supported by a $1.67 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services Division of Transplantation.

“Our primary goal is not simply to persuade people to become organ donors; it’s to make sure they have all of the accurate information they need to make a decision based on the facts,” Morgan said.

There are over 90,000 people waiting for transplants right now and the number grows every day. Fewer than 40 percent of Americans have signed organ donor cards and only about half of their families consent to the donation of a loved one’s organs.

“If everyone who was eligible to donate did donate, we could nearly wipe out the entire transplant waiting list,” Morgan said.