As someone who witnesses the impact of organ, eye, and tissue donation every day, I am disappointed by Mayor Young’s comments on Monday, Dec. 2, warning the public about “a white van trying to snatch up young girls for human trafficking and selling body parts…” While these comments may seem harmless to some, I know firsthand the damage they can do. Mayor Young, your words have the potential to cost us lives here in Baltimore.
I believe your words to warn citizens about a potential threat were well-intentioned, but unfortunately, very harmful. Human trafficking is a serious issue and nothing to be taken lightly, but I’d like to focus specifically on how a myth like this, especially when shared by someone in a position of power, can negatively impact organ donation and jeopardize hundreds of lives here in Baltimore. Myths like this instill fear about organ donation, which is a process that saves thousands of lives every year.
The myth of “bodysnatching to sell organs” is one we unfortunately have heard in our work at The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. We serve as the organ donation organization for our state and part of our mission and responsibility is to educate our community about donation and transplantation and empower each individual to make a decision for themselves. At health fairs and outreach events, people tell us, “I think it’s the right thing to do, but I sometimes don’t trust hospitals or doctors,” or “I don’t want someone to steal my organs before I’m dead.” We respect a person’s right to make the decision for themselves and it is heartbreaking to see how damaging these myths can be. They perpetuate a culture of fear surrounding organ donation and the medical field. Not only do they harm the opportunity of donation for the individual (and feeling of hope after loss for the family), but they also take away a potential donor for one of our nation’s 113,000+ people waiting for an organ transplant, 500+ of whom are living right here in Baltimore City.
Perpetuating the myth of organs being sold in our city (which the Baltimore City police and the FBI have confirmed there is no factual basis), is disrespectful to the thousands of donors and their families who have chosen to give the gift of life here in Baltimore; people who have chosen to create hope from tragedy. It is disrespectful to the transplant recipients and people waiting; people who grapple daily with the knowledge that in their hope for a transplant, someone else must die. It is disrespectful to the countless medical professionals who dedicate themselves to saving and respecting life. The organ recovery process honors the donor every step of the way, from honor walks and moments of silence to grief support services for the family. Our two transplant centers here in Baltimore, the University of Maryland Medical Center and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, work every day to advance the transplantation field, making donation possible for donors with illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis, innovating organ transport methods, and performing groundbreaking transplant surgeries. The transplant centers, hospitals, and our organization honor each and every donor and their family for the generous gifts that make our work possible.
Mayor Young, I invite you to come visit me at The Living Legacy Foundation to learn more about what we are doing to save the lives of people in Baltimore and beyond. I ask you to consider how you can create a personal accountability for your words that perpetuate these myths and how they harm the 500+ individuals and their families who are waiting for a transplant here in Baltimore City. Your voice and your words have power and I hope in the future you will use yours to help us save lives.
President and CEO of The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland