By BRANDON CHEW
Capital News Service
LANSING — The most common reason teens register as organ donors are societal benefits, such as helping other people, and personal experience, such as a loved one receiving a transplant, according to a new study.
The study of 466 Michigan and Ohio teens, aged 13-19, found their major reasons for not registering included “bodily integrity,” religious reasons or simply a lack of interest.
“If you can get someone early on to register, that person is likely to continue and stay a donor,” said study co-author Tobias Reynolds-Tylus, an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University.
Reynolds-Tylus said the study follows earlier research to understand Americans’ beliefs about organ donations and why they choose to sign up or not.
The study surveyed teens from drivers’ education schools in Michigan and Ohio.
Co-author Brian Quick, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he “reached out to several (instructors) through Ann Arbo-r based All Star Driver Education.
The study published in the journal “Clinical Transportation” emphasized that further research is needed because the survey’s representativeness was limited.
“These were not school-funded programs where we recruited students,” Quick said. “These were private driving schools.”
“This is a very high socioeconomic sample,” Reynolds-Tylus said. “So certainly we wouldn’t want to make generalizations to middle- and lower-class (socio-economic status) samples based on this data.”
The authors mentioned the work by some organizations to educate young people about organ donor registration, such as Gift of Life Michigan, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor.
“We have an education program here at Gift of Life that’s geared mostly toward high school students,” said Alison Gillum, the organization’s community relations coordinator.
Gillum said the program provides interactive presentations to high school students about organ donation.
“Young people are very supportive of this cause,” she said. “And in cases when they’re not, it typically has to do with a lack of education around the topic.”
A Portage High School junior associated with Gift of Life Michigan emphasized the importance of education.
“I really enjoy what they’re doing with these health programs because I think it gave me the chance to get out of my comfort zone and spread more awareness around the community,” Tristan Johnson said.
Johnson received a kidney transplant in May 2019 after being diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that damages tissues and organs such as the heart and kidneys.
Getting more young people to talk among each other about personal experience with transplants could help them make an informed decision about joining the registry, Johnson said.
“It’s easier to talk to kids around my age and show the importance of why being a donor is so important,” he said. “Obviously, people still have the choice at the end of the day, but it’s nice that they get to hear from someone around their age.”
The authors said they hope this study and continued research will improve efforts to help young people make informed decisions about registering as organ donors.
“This is an important audience,” Quick said. “If we can get them on board with the reasons for registering, before they’re bombarded with stories from “Grey’s Anatomy” and movies, it’s nice that they’ve got a good base of the actual process.”