Background: Although low rates of cadaveric organ donation have been attributed to potential cadaveric donors' concerns regarding their religious beliefs and mistrust of the health care system, it is unclear whether similar concerns are important to potential living related donors. It is also not known which factors might be most responsible for low rates of cadaveric and living related donation among the general public.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of households in Maryland, using a standardized telephone questionnaire, to assess factors associated with willingness to donate cadaveric and living related organs. We compared factors (demographic, cultural, attitudinal, and clinical) related to willingness to donate cadaveric organs with factors related to willingness to donate living related organs. In multivariate analyses, we assessed the independent relation of factors to willingness to donate cadaveric and living related organs, and we assessed the relative importance of these factors in explaining variation in the general public's willingness to donate.
Results: Of 385 participants (84% of randomized homes), 254 (66%) were extremely willing to donate to a sibling but only 179 (47%) had designated themselves a cadaveric donor on their drivers' licenses. In bivariate analysis, older age, comorbid conditions, mistrust in hospitals, and concerns about discrimination in hospitals were statistically significantly associated with less willingness to donate living related organs, although African-Americans, older age, lower education, lack of insurance, unemployment, comorbid conditions, and religion/spirituality were associated with less willingness to donate cadaveric organs. After adjusting for potential confounders, only mistrust in hospitals and concerns about discrimination remained strongly and independently associated with 50 to 60% less odds of willingness to donate living related organs [[relative odds [95% confidence intervals (CI)]: 0.4 (0.2-0.7) to 0.5 (0.3-1.0) and 0.4 (0.2-0.9), respectively]] although presence of dependents was associated with 70% higher odds of willingness to donate living related organs [relative odds (95% CI): 1.7 (1.0-3.0)]. In contrast, older age, employment status, religion/spirituality, and mistrust in hospitals were associated with 50 to 90% less odds of willingness to donate living related organs cadaveric organs [relative odds (95% CI): 0.3 (0.1-0.8), 0.4(0.2-0.8), 0.1 (0.1- 0.5) to 0.5 (0.2-0.9), and 0.3 (0.2-0.6), respectively]. Mistrust in hospitals and concerns about the surgical donation procedure contributed most to the variation in willingness to be a living related donor, although race contributed most to the variation in willingness to be a cadaveric donor.
Conclusions: Many factors affect the general public's willingness to donate organs, but their relative contribution is different for living related versus cadaveric donation. Efforts to improve organ donation rates should be directed toward factors that are most important in explaining the existing variation in willingness to donate.