Barriers to obtaining family consent for potential organ donors

J Trauma. 2010 Feb;68(2):447-51. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3181caab8f.


Background: Our country suffers from a chronic shortage of organ donors, and the list of individuals in desperate need of life-saving organ transplants is growing every year. Family consent represents an important limiting factor for successful donation. We hypothesize that specific barriers to obtaining family consent can be identified and improved upon to increase organ donation consent rates. The purpose of this study was to compare families who declined organ donation to those who granted consent, specifically to identify barriers to family consent for successful organ donation.

Methods: We performed a 4-year (2004-2007) retrospective study of potential organ donors covered by our regional organ procurement organization (OPO). Variables collected included age, gender, race, cause of brain death (trauma vs. medical) of the potential organ donor, and elapsed time from declaration of brain death to family approach by OPO. Potential organ donors whose family declined organ donation (DECLINE group) were compared with potential organ donors whose family consented to organ donation (CONSENT group). Groups were compared using univariate and multivariate analysis.

Results: There were a total of 827 potential organ donors during the 4-year period within our OPO region. Overall, 471 families (57%) consented to organ donation, whereas 356 families (43%) declined. Although there was no difference in male gender between the DECLINE and CONSENT groups (59% vs. 53%, p = 0.12), the DECLINE group had more medical brain deaths (73% vs. 58%, p < 0.001), more potential donors aged 50 years or older (43% vs. 34%, p < 0.001), as well as more potential organ donors of Hispanic (67% vs. 43%, p < 0.001) and African American (10% vs. 4%, p < 0.001) descent. In addition, time from declaration of brain death to family approach by OPO was longer for the DECLINE group (350 minutes vs. 112 minutes, p = 0.001). Logistic regression identified race, older age, and death from a medical cause as independent risk factors for failure of obtaining consent.

Conclusion: Several barriers exist to family consent for successful organ donation. Family members of minority populations, medical brain deaths, and older potential donors more often decline consent for organ donation. Family education and resource utilization toward these specific populations of potential organ donors may help to improve organ donation consent rates. In addition, delayed family approach by OPO seems to be associated with decreased consent rates. System improvements to expedite family approach by OPO may likewise lead to improved consent rates.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Texas
  • Third-Party Consent / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tissue Donors*
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult