Organ donor education and the Gallup poll 
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 Organ donor education and the Gallup poll

The Partnership for Organ Donation Gallup Poll, "The American
Public's Attitudes Toward Organ Donation and Transplantation", is
finally on the net.  Its available in the Yale biomedical gopher.
        URL: gopher://
        The "Organ and tissue transplant information" submenu is under
        "Biomedical disciplines and specific diseases/diseases and disorders".
I'll have files for the graphics posted along with it by the
middle of the week.  It will also soon be fixed up on TransWeb under
the Organ Donation selection.  

This survey apparently hasn't gotten enough exposure.  It has been
out for two years now, but I don't see it referred to often.  That's
a pity.  It could squash a good many incorrect assumptions and
hopefully get more people focused on the real problems causing the
organ donor shortage.  

The big incorrect assumption among people concerned with
transplantation, professionals and nonprofessionals alike, is that
donation currently has wide support.  Not so.  Even though 85% will
say that they "support" organ donation, further questioning shows
that nearly half that number doesn't know what that means.  Less
than half of the population are ready to actually allow the donation
of their own organs.  The really telling result though, because its
how donation is actually carried out, is that only a quarter of the
population would allow donation from a family member.  Only half of
the people who report themselves to be very likely to donate their
own organs have told their families of this.  In the face of this,
anyone still going around saying that there's nothing more to be
done to increase donation, and that we're getting all the organs for
transplantation that we ever will (and I have heard this - from
physicians no less), doesn't have a flipping clue.  The difference
between the public's willingness to accept the concept and their
ignorance of what's actually needed indicates that donation can be
increased at least 100%, if not more.

Why will people not support donation?  The reasons commonly
speculated on don't seem to apply.  Only 5% will mistakenly claim
that its against their religion.  Only 15% seem to be simply
squeamish.  About 25% of those who would not donate may have good
medical reasons to exempt themselves, even though there's no point
to self-exemption.  That leaves half the people questioned who
either can't, or won't, articulate a reason.  This strongly suggests
that the greatest cause of the failure of the US public to support
organ donation is an emotional reaction to the negative portrayal of
transplantation and organ procurement in the media.

The survey supports this conclusion.  Damaging myths regarding organ
transplantation are widely believed and likely to be the cause of
the American public's negative attitude toward donation.  Nearly 60%
believe that a poor person of equal need will be passed over in
favor of the rich when it comes to receiving a donated organ.  This
means that the majority of the public assumes that organ allocation
is not equitable.  

"More than one-third of Americans believe that organs can be bought
and sold on the black market..." Again, another indication that the
public believes that sinister, inequitable things take place in
organ transplantation.  Nearly 50% said that they receive
information about transplantation not from news coverage, but from
movies and TV shows.  Those of us in this group who have been
swapping information about the appearance and promotion of urban
legends on various TV shows in the last couple of years know what
kind of information they've been receiving.  It ain't good.  The
success of the fiction of Robin Cook and others still inspire many
imitations, and have also inspired tabloid "news".  The people who
insist that organ theft myths have nothing to do with the organ
donor crisis are going to have to come up with some data to support
that claim.  An integral part of organ donor education has got to be
information countering urban legends.
(For more information on organ theft myths, see the Organ
trafficking myths directory in the Yale biomedical gopher Organ and
tissue transplant information directory, see above.)

What are the key points that can be drawn from the poll about the
effectiveness of current education efforts?  The most important is
that only 60% of the population has had any exposure to any
information about organ donation.  The largest source of exposure is
general news media and public service adverti{*filter*}ts.  This is
followed closely by movie and TV shows, which probably serve largely
to dilute any positive message received from other sources.  I
submit that along with increased efforts in making public service
announcements, an organized effort needs to be made to decrease the
destruction of any gains made through positive ads and news
coverage.  This can be done either by actively recruiting and
educating "Hollywood", or by actively discrediting them.  Ignoring
them doesn't seem to be working.

Of the people who outright oppose donation, nearly 60% believe that
transplantation is still an experimental procedure.  This suggests
that the slogan "Transplantation works", and other information about
the successes of transplantation, should be incorporated more in
education campaigns.

Donor cards have been a two edged sword.  They have been successful
at promoting donor awareness, but the majority of the public now
seem to believe that an organ donor card is always the only thing
necessary for donation.  More than that, the public seems to believe
that the presence of a donor card means that your organs will be
taken regardless of your medical history and the circumstances of
your death.  Donor cards have completely failed to encourage people
to tell their families of their decision to donate.  While many
states have recently passed revisions to their anatomical gift acts
that give additional legal standing to using a signed donation
statement in the event that family members can not be located in
time, there is still no indication that hospitals and physicians are
willing to use this.  Family member's willingness to sign papers
allowing donation still takes precedence.  

The bottom line is that nearly everyone supports the "concept"
donation.  90% agree that donation can make something positive come
out of a person's death.  The difference between this potential and
the reality means that education hasn't even started yet.  
Assumptions and methods need to be evaluated in light of this data.

Fri, 25 Jul 1997 07:48:46 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Organ donor education-Info requested.

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3. Gallup Poll: George Bush Now Has Double-Digit Lead Over Kerry

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