Words are powerful. How certain words or terms are used can have a significant impact, especially when it comes to organ, eye and tissue donation. Language not only plays an important role in perpetuating or debunking common myths and misconceptions about organ, eye and tissue donation, it can also serve as a way to pay respect to those who have given the gift of life and their loved ones.
The list below provides guidelines around which organ donation terms to avoid and the most appropriate terminology to use instead. Avoiding certain terms and phrases can both reduce concern among donor families and help to increase public understanding and acceptance of the donation process.
Use the terms Recover or Procure instead of Harvest, and Donated Organs and Tissues instead of Body Parts
While some of these organ donation terms may be used and accepted medically, they aren’t appropriate to use out of respect for the donor families, especially when referring to their loved one’s organs. We’ve heard feedback from donor families that terms such as “harvest” make them feel like their loved one is equated with a crop. Using terms like “recover,” “procure” and “donated organs and tissues” instead, helps loved ones and the general public understand that the entire donation process is respectful and that donors and their families are treated with the utmost care.
Deceased Donor or Deceased Donation instead of Cadaver or Cadaveric Donation
Similar to the terms above, while “cadaver” has long been accepted medically, it is important to use terminology that is considerate of donor families and conveys to the public the respect and care that donors are treated with throughout the entire process. Additionally, while there didn’t used to be a need to make a distinction between living and deceased donation, more and more people are making the life-saving decision to become a living donor. Using the terms “deceased donor” and “deceased donation” help to make a clear distinction between living and deceased donors.
Ventilator Support or Mechanical Support instead of Life Support
Death can occur in one of two ways: cardiac death, when the heart is no longer able to beat on its own, and brain death, which is the irreversible loss of function of the brain, including the brain stem. Use of the term “life” support can cause confusion when it comes to brain death, in particular. Brain death is final and finite; it is not the same as a coma or persistent vegetative state. When death occurs, there is no form of support that can make that person live again. When brain death has been determined, a donor may give the gift of life through organ, eye and tissue donation. In that case, “mechanical” support is the support given to a deceased donor to supply blood and oxygen to sustain the organs and tissues that may be donated.
Donation is a Decision not a Wish
Signing up as an organ, eye and tissue donor is a first-person authorized advanced directive, meaning you have made the decision to donate your organs, eyes and tissues at the time of your death. Using the term “wish” rather than “decision” implies that you are hopeful that you will become a donor but that your choice is not final. However, your decision to be a donor cannot be changed by your family. Your decision takes precedence over your loved one’s wishes, which is why it is so important to tell your family about your decision to help others.