How to use Organ Donation to start a difficult conversation.

One of the things I love about organ donation is it is that it is one of the few times where people are willing to talk about death. Isn’t that weird? We hate talking about illness. Most of us shy away from talking about the process of dying and death itself. But when it comes to talking about what you want to happen to your organs and tissues after you die, it’s fair game.

In my opinion, the DMV has to take the credit here. In many states, organ donation is just another question you answer when you get your license. Because getting a license is pretty routine, so is thinking about organ donation. You could argue that the DMV doesn’t go into enough depth in explaining what it is and how it works, of course. But for our purpose, that doesn’t matter as much. The fact that you have a “hook” to start your conversation is helpful. This may be the only time I ever write this, but: Thank you DMV!


Exploring organ donation with your loved ones

To help you, your loved ones have to understand you. They need to know how you think about things. That is true for organ donation as well. For organ and tissue donation, time is of the essence. If your documentation is unclear or if your health proxies don’t know your wishes, it could be too late.

So, how do you explain in detail? The goal is for your loved ones to completely understand your choices.

If you don’t agree with organ donation, your loved ones need to be able to confirm that without hesitation. If you do agree, the same applies. That sort of certainty comes from knowing each other well. Here are a few tricks to help make sure you communicate your wishes clearly:

  • Make clear whether you do or don’t want to donate your organs and tissues after your death.
  • Explain why you believe your choice is important to you. You are likely to have some specific reasons for or against organ donation. By sharing those reasons, it helps make your decision more understandable and memorable.
  • Although not generally recommended, it is possible to make only some of your organs and tissues available. If you have specific wishes about that, document them. Share both the list of organs and the reasons for (not) wanting to donate them.
  • Don’t hesitate to get a little philosophical, too. In an ideal world, what would you want your organs to be used for? Would you save a life? Would you want to help train the next generation of doctor? Do you want to contribute to science and research? Why? Sharing these opinions helps people understand you better. Remember to highlight that this is just an example. Trust me though: your friends will remember your anecdote. They’ll remember your choices, too, as a result.

Once you’ve covered organ donation, the stage is set. You’ve already spoken about death, if in a slightly abstract sense. Make another cup of coffee, and roll up your sleeves… Now the real conversation begins.


Using organ donation as a springboard to deeper conversations.

You can use people’s familiarity with organ donation to your advantage. In our experience, talking about organ donation is a great way to start a conversation about end of life.

You could say “I had to renew my driving licence and they asked me about organ donation. Are you an organ donor?” and the conversation rolls from there. It’s a low-risk approach.

Once the conversation is flowing, you can start exploring deeper topics.

If they have the same answer as you, you have something in common, and you can go from there. “Oh! Me too. Hey, I want to talk to you about something related… Do you know what a health proxy is?” and from there you can continue having your conversation.

If you don’t agree, that’s even better. If you are in favor and they are against organ donation, explore why. Remember, though: you are not trying to change their mind. This isn’t a discussion; it’s a conversation. Try to see the issue from their point of view, and try to explain your thinking behind your choice. From there, you can continue the conversation. “I’m glad we get along so well even when we disagree on something. I’m especially glad you’re able to respect my opinions even when they are different to yours. Do you know what an advance healthcare directive is?”


This blog post is at a 6th grade reading level. We think that’s important. Check out LifeFolder to learn more about planning for the future of your healthcare.

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