Friday, July 30, 2010

Of Organ Donors and 'Words (reposted from elsewhere 10/23/07)

I'm what you could call a "magazinaholic," or "readaholic." I read lots and lots of magazines, and an occasional book. Right now, when I get the chance, I'm reading The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, about... well, the subtitle is "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference." For clarification, "tipping point" can be another way of saying "the straw that broke the camel's back."

Anyhow, recently I read a special edition of Scientific American magazine, which I buy when something on the cover catches my eye. This special edition, titled Scientific American: Mind, has articles like "Psychology of eBay" (we shouldn't be so trusting of strangers we don't know and can't see, and yet we are), "Preventing Dropouts," and "How Words Shape Thought."

That last one really stuck with me: it's about how almost everyone who wants to shape people's thought patterns or catch people's attention will do so with careful attention to the words they choose to make their points. One example is ex-US President George W. Bush using the phrase "death tax" in his campaign to abolish what is actually an inheritance tax. By calling it a "death tax," he gained support from people who have little to leave as an inheritance for the ending of a tax that only those US residents inheriting money have to pay. Bush didn't make it clear that this was not a penalty tax on survivors but a tax on interited income. And, of course, Bush did not disclose that sometime soon he himself would have to pay this tax if something were to happen to his father. Conflict of interest, anyone? :roll:

Another example was "opt-in" vs. "opt-out" policies for organ donation. In many countries, people who renew their driver's licenses are asked if they want to be an organ donor. In opt-out countries like Belgium or France, where the default is that you are an organ donor, the effective rate of participation approaches 100%, while in opt-in countries like the US and the Netherlands, where you have to explicitly sign a form to donate, the percentage hovers in the twenties.

I'm sure there are those who would screech about freedom and rights and such, but in light of the thousands of people who stay on transplant lists for years while perfectly healthy people who could donate do not, policy makers in this country and elsewhere should think about changing to an opt-out policy. After all, we all have to opt-out to stop receiving postal mail or email that we didn't even ask for, so what's the big deal about making organ donation an opt-out process? It would make many more organs available, and thus prolong and even save lives -- people wouldn't be forced to donate, but many times more people would be checked to see if they're suitable than are being checked now.

I had my kidney transplant three years ago, but if a relative hadn't volunteered to donate, who knows where I'd be now?