Abstract: An Examination of Teenagers’ Beliefs Towards Organ Donor Registration

◆ Tobias Reynolds-Tylus, James Madison University
◆ Brian L. Quick, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

More than 112,000 Americans are currently awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant (United Network for Organ Sharing, 2019). Despite large public support (95%) for organ donation (Gallup, 2013), only about half (54%) of U.S. adults are registered organ donors (Donate Life America, 2017). One group with particularly low registration rates are young adults (Feeley, Reynolds-Tylus, Anker, & Evans, 2014).
The current investigation seeks to better understand teenagers’ organ donation beliefs. Research on teenagers’ organ donation beliefs is limited. Extant research shows that teenagers have positive attitudes towards organ donation (Quick, LaVoie, Scott, Bosch, & Morgan, 2012), but relatively low knowledge on the topic (Sirios, Sears, & Marhefka, 2005). Furthermore, teenagers are unaware of the need for organ donation (Quick et al., 2012), and believe many myths/misconceptions (Quick et al., 2012; Sirios, 2005).
Method: Participants (N = 466) ranging in age from 13-19 (M = 15.41, SD = 0.79) were recruited from driver’s education schools in Ohio (n = 259) and Michigan (n = 207). Participants were mostly White (65.9%) and female (61.8%). Few were registered organ donors (22.2%).
Participants completed a survey on their beliefs about why people do and do not register as organ donors. Two undergraduate coders were trained on a coding scheme developed by the first two authors. Acceptable intercoder reliability was reached for both ‘reasons why’ (Cohen’s kappa = .85) and ‘reasons why not’ (Cohen’s kappa = .91).
Results: The most commonly perceived reasons for registering were prosocial benefit (42.6%, “Help other people”), rational argument (14.5%, “You don't need organs when you die”), personal experience (10.0%, “May have known someone whose life was saved”), and the belief that donors are good people (8.2%, “Because they believe in helping other”). Additional reasons included personal benefits (5.9%), scientific benefits (3.6%), social influence/norm (3.4%), reciprocity (2.0%), living on through others (1.7%), religious reasons (1.6%), and other (6.7%).
The most commonly perceived reasons for not registering were bodily integrity (17.4%, “They want their whole body together when they die”), religious reasons (14.5%, “It is against their faith”), no desire/negative beliefs (12.1%, “Not interested”), and general fears (9.4%, “Scared to donate their organs”). Additional reasons included lack of awareness (7.7%), perceived disqualification (7.0%), disgust (6.7%), the belief that nondonors are bad people (6.4%), perceived personal risks/costs (5.8%), perceived family disagreement (3.3%), medical mistrust (2.4%), and other (7.3%).
Discussion: The current study aligns and contrasts with past qualitative work on organ donation beliefs in adult samples (Feeley et al., 2014; Reynolds-Tylus, Quick, King, & Moore, 2019). In line with previous work, our results revealed the three most common reasons for registering were prosocial benefits, rational argument, and personal experience. In contrast to previous work (Feeley et al., 2014; Reynolds-Tylus et al., 2019), the two most common reasons for not registering were concerns about bodily integrity and religious reasons. The current study also identified several novel beliefs among teenagers that support donation (donors are good people, scientific benefits, personal benefits, living on through others) and that are non-supportive (nondonors are bad people, personal risk/cost).