The first week of August is Minority Organ Donor Awareness Week. It was established to draw attention to the need for organ, eye, and tissue donors — particularly in minority communities. As of May 2015, people of color make up nearly 58% of organ donation wait lists — and more than half are African Americans. Black people have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and sarcoidosis than any other race, and these conditions dramatically increase the chances of organ failure. Statistically, African Americans are 13% of the population but comprise 34.1% of the kidney wait lists, 24.4% of the heart wait list, and 11.6% of lung wait list.
Historically, African Americans are not likely to be organ donors. In a survey conducted by physicians Minniefield, Yang, and Muti in order to understand attitudes that might influence organ donation by African Americans, investigators found that thirty-eight percent of African Americans said they would not donate organs due to a fear of receiving less medical intervention. The reason given was “if I am an organ donor I won’t get the necessary medical attention.” These fears may be based, in part, on historical incidents of abuse that African American patients have suffered at the hands of medical professionals. Due to tragedies like the Tuskegee Study that allowed black
men with syphilis to go untreated for years, it is no mystery why many blacks are suspicious of the intent of physicians and medical research.
While medical mistrust may be well founded, it negatively affects the health of African Americans. In a study entitled “Understanding African Americans’ Views of the Trustworthiness of Physicians,” researchers discovered that “distrust of the motives of the medical profession [result] in withdrawal of life-sustaining technology, pursuit of organ donation, research, and health care over all.” Furthermore, much of the suspicion surrounding organ donation is based on myths. Many black people avoid becoming organ donors out of fear that they will not receive adequate medical treatment while they are alive; however, if a person is sick or injured it is the physician’s first responsibility to save his or her life. Organ, tissue, and eye donation can only be considered after someone has died.
In order to meet increasing organ donation needs, it is important that African Americans and all people of color register as organ donors. Although organs are not selected based on race, ethnicity does play a role in the matching process. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “compatible blood types and tissue markers—critical qualities for donor recipient matching—are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity.” As a result, greater diversity in donors will increase the likelihood that if needed, a successful transplant match can be located to save the live of you or your loved one.
For more information on becoming an organ donor visit www.organdonor.gov.
–Jasmine Snead. Jasmine is working towards a degree in Government and Politics with a certificate in African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is interested in civil rights and justice, feminism, criminal justice reform and immigration politics.
 “Why Minorities are Needed” Health Resources and Services Administration (viewed 8/5/2015).
 “Waiting List Candidates by Ethnicity” Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, Health Resources and Services Administration, May 6, 2015 (viewed 8/5/2015).
 Minniefield, W. J., J. Yang, and P. Muti. “Differences in Attitudes toward Organ Donation among African Americans and Whites in the United States,” Journal of the National Medical Association, 93.10 (2001): 372–379.
 Jacobs, Elizabeth A. et al. “Understanding African Americans’ Views of the Trustworthiness of Physicians,” Journal of General Internal Medicine 21.6 (2006): 642–647. PMC. (viewed 8/5/2015).
 Wall, L L. “The Medical Ethics of Dr J Marion Sims: A Fresh Look at the Historical Record.” Journal of Medical Ethics 32.6 (2006): 346–350 (viewed 8/5/2015).
 Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown, 2010.
 U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Sept. 2013. (viewed 8/6/2015).
 “Learn The Facts,” Health Resources and Services Administration (viewed 8/5/2015).
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