Conversation cues can show readiness to discuss donation

This page is a resource for hospital partners of the LifeNet Health Organ Procurement Organization.

Hospital teams, including nursing and medical staff, are instrumental in identifying a window for LifeNet Health to approach families about donation. This is important because timing matters. Data collected by LifeNet Health show that many families will consider donation if asked around the time they begin having end-of-life discussions – instead of after decisions are made.

Studies indicate that families who decline organ and tissue donation often regret their decision. Conversely, those who consent to donation often find a sense of meaning and purpose in an otherwise senseless or tragic event.

Conversation Cues Hospital Teams Can Watch For

Please notify LifeNet Health if you pick up on the following conversation cues from families:

  • They wouldn’t want to live like this.
  • I can’t see them like this any longer.
  • I don’t want them to suffer.
  • I remember when they. ...
  • What’s next?
  • Is there any chance for meaningful recovery?
  • Is there an option for hospice care?
  • What funeral home do you recommend?
  • Is my loved one in pain?
  • Can you make sure they are comfortable?

You should also contact LifeNet Health if there are changes in the care plan or code status; if chaplaincy, palliative or hospice are consulted; if the family mentions donation; if a goals of care meeting is anticipated; or if extubation is anticipated.

Keep in mind, it is vital to keep any consideration of donation separated from the care process – so the hospital team should never initiate the discussion.

Other Helpful Practices

Hospital teams should be willing to discuss the severity of the patient’s condition, including the possibility of cardiac death or brain death, with the family. Talking about this early – even prior to making a diagnosis – gives families more time to process the information. Continue to explain and educate.

It is also helpful to learn about the patient, the family, and their support systems. Be sure to document this in the medical record, as this information can help all of us to support the family with empathy and respect.

When indicated, brain death should be declared promptly, and providers should offer a clear explanation to the family along with tests that support the diagnosis. At this point, hospital partners should avoid using language such as “life support” and “withdrawing support,” which can lead to confusion.

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