For many years I debated: Should I be an organ donor?
As a faith leader who regularly speaks about the value of life, and as a healthy individual with an interest in organ donation, I was genuinely excited about the possibility to save another person.
Nonetheless, it was a very big decision and one I did not take lightly.
While I knew the rewards outweighed the risks, there was a lot to think about regarding the financial costs I’d incur, the amount of time the process would take and the impact on my family.
But my desire to save another life prevailed, and I will never regret my decision in the summer of 2015 to donate to my recipient, Idan Azran, a young man in his 20s who had been orphaned at a young age and had no immediate family around him.
Willing organ donors face a daunting process
There are many people out there like me who want to become living kidney donors. But there are hurdles we must overcome if we want to increase that number.
As a country, we must ease the burden on transplant donors and recipients and help them navigate the donation process.
In the United States, more than 5,000 people die each year waiting for a kidney donation. Each day, about 15 lives are lost.
And for those waiting, their final days are spent on painful and expensive dialysis treatments. So, what’s the holdup to making impactful improvements to the donation process?
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For many potential donors, steep costs are a serious barrier to moving forward in the process. I was not reimbursed financially for the time and testing it took to donate a kidney. I and my family were in a position to take on these expenses myself, but many others aren’t so fortunate.
There’s also little guidance and education out there about how to navigate the donation process, which can deter people who might feel overwhelmed about where to begin.
I was blessed to work with an outstanding nonprofit that helped me through the process, but many others who can’t find this help understandably walk away from the process.
Bill would help smooth organ donation
This is not a very inviting way to encourage or show appreciation for the selfless act of altruistic kidney donation.
Fortunately, legislation is in the works and awaiting introduction in Congress to alleviate some of the biggest burdens to kidney donation and to ultimately increase the number of lifesaving transplants.
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The Kidney Transplant Collaborative is a national nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to increasing kidney transplants while decreasing the financial obstacles and other challenges that kidney recipients, donors and families often experience during the kidney transplantation process.
The organization is advocating for the introduction and passage of the Living Organ Volunteer Engagement (LOVE) Act.
The U.S. organ transplant system is missing out on a huge opportunity to save lives, and the LOVE Act would educate potential donors through a national campaign to explain the process of living kidney donation.
Lives are on the line. Congress must act.
I wrote a book last year to help guide others through the organ donation process, but a much larger effort from our government is needed to make a more significant and widespread impact.
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The LOVE Act would create a much-needed donor navigation system to support and coordinate living organ donations. With donor navigators available to guide living donors through the process, even more lifesaving kidneys could be given to recipients who are waiting for a second chance.
The legislation would also provide cost reimbursements to donors, opening up an entirely new path for kidney donation that would incentivize every type of donation, altruistic and otherwise, and save more lives.
Donating my kidney was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It forever changed my outlook on life, and I was able to save the life of another.
With real lives on the line, we must continue urging Congress to pass meaningful legislation so that our story becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, author of “The 5-Ounce Gift: A Medical, Philosophical & Spiritual Jewish Guide to Kidney Donation,” lives in Phoenix. This column first published on azcentral.com. Reach him on X, formerly Twitter: @RavShmuly