Motorcyclists Organ Donor Cards - Exhaust Notes

Ride On
I recently read a piece in the Los Angeles Times about how people needing organ transplants are "jumping the line" by making arrangements outside the system overseen by the United Network for Organ Sharing. Some people requiring kidneys, for example, have found living donors. It certainly highlights the desperation of people needing organs to survive.

The article reminded me of a conversation I had with a waitress a year or so ago. When she brought my food, she paused and, nodding at my riding gear, asked, "Are you an organ donor?"

I was more interested in eating than talking, but I answered her question. "Well, not yet, but I carry a card attached to my driver's license and have told my family that I want to donate any of my bits that are useable. I figured I'll wait until I die to actually donate, though."

"Can I see your card?" she asked.

I thought that was forward but decided to show her. When I did she brightened up considerably. She sat down in my booth and told me about how her neighbor's son's life had been saved when an uncle (if I remember correctly) had died in a motorcycle crash. The needed organ had been a good match, and the kid had been saved at what, the waitress said, was virtually the last minute. Since then she had apparently been looking at every rider she saw as a potential organ donor and had become an evangelist. She had quite a spiel about what a great thing it was, "extending someone else's life when yours is over." She saw motorcyclists as wonderful potential donors because she thought we were all hearty models of health, and, though she didn't actually say it, likely to die in that condition.

On average, about 90 to 100 people need organ transplants every day, but only about 70 to 80 organs become available on an average day, so about 20 percent of those in need die because they don't get them. As the Times article detailed, some people in need of organs are finding them outside the usual channels.

If all motorcyclists carried donor cards, would it really make a difference? Maybe. On average, about nine U.S. motorcyclists die in crashes every day (the numbers are higher in warmer seasons and on weekends). If each of them donated an organ or two, it could cut the number of those who don't receive organs in half.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. Some potential donors probably have medical issues that make them unsuitable. Some crashers hit so hard that they blow up the organs that need to be harvested. Helmet wearers are likely to fall into this group because a helmeted rider who suffers a fatal head injury typically has two or more fatal injuries to other body parts, meaning that there may not be much left to donate. On the other hand, riders who don't wear helmets (or use non-DOT novelty beanie helmets) often die from barely more than a tap on the head-suffering a fatal head injury while leaving the rest of their bodies in pristine condition.

That's one reason why there have been legislative proposals to make unhelmeted riders legally presumed to have consented to organ donation if they are killed. While there are obvious ethical and other reasons why this doesn't work, the idea that unhelmeted motorcyclists are potentially excellent organ donors is sound.

There are some myths floating around about organ donation, such as carrying an organ-donor card means doctors are less likely to try to save you or that the organ-donation system is a for-profit organization. You can check out the myths and realities on the government's web site on the subject: You can also print out organ-donor cards from one of its pages.

In my opinion, every motorcyclist should carry a donor card and give his or her organs a chance to ride on. That's particularly true if you ride without a helmet. After all, it could be your nephew or neighbor. And if the idea of having your organs riding around with someone else after you're dead makes you queasy, be sure you wear a good helmet.

Art Friedman, founding editor/staff of Motorcycle Cruiser, still gets e-mail at