Helmet Laws & Organ Donations: Should Those Who Ride Decide?

Posted on August 2, 2011


This is a guest post by Patricia Walling.  Patricia is a web content designer for several healthcare-related sites.  She self-identifies as a perpetual student of medicine, and can be found most of the time researching anything related to the field.

Motorcycles and organ donors

Motorcycle helmet laws historically have been similar to a toggle-switch. In 1967, the federal government required states to enact helmet laws to qualify for specific federal safety programs and highway construction funds. It worked. By 1974, motorcycle helmet laws had become universal in nearly all states. However, beginning in 1968 first one state and then another repealed its laws, re-enacted, or amended them.

By July 2011, only the District of Columbia and 20 states had laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. This on-again-off-again toggling of the laws had an unintended consequence in the realm of medical coding: it brought to light that saving bikers’ lives diminished the supply and quality of life-saving organs for transplants.

Motorcyclists’ Deaths Statistics

The shocking number of motorcycle fatalities is due to the fact that 50 percent of motorcycle riders do not wear helmets. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that riders involved in highway accidents were thirty times more likely to die than those in cars. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study indicating that between the years of 2001 and 2008 more than 34,000 motorcyclists died. Of these, the death rate was highest among 20- to 29-year-olds. In the year of 2009 alone, there were 4595 motorcycle accident fatalities.

Wearing a Helmet Saves a Live; If Not, Saves Eight

Public health officials, concerned by the number of motorcycle deaths, advise passing and enforcing helmet laws across the United States. Police officers and emergency room personnel will affirm, and survivors of motorcycle wrecks will agree that helmets save lives. On the flip side, however, it has been estimated that the death of one motorcyclist saves up to eight lives on donor lists (though other statistics conclude that it takes three motorcyclists’ deaths to save one person on the donor list).

Quality Donor Source

Some transplant surgeons affirm that the prime source of organs is motorcycle fatalities. Young riders provide the “highest-quality” organs since they are generally healthy and usually sustain only head injuries in motorcycle accidents. They make it possible for seventy-seven people per day to receive a transplant

Motorcycles are referred to as “Donorcycles” in a study correlating motorcycle fatalities with organ donations. The conclusion states that a 30 percent decline in fatalities is observed when helmet laws are mandated and enforced. The same article points out that when helmet laws are repealed, the death rates increase and more organs become available for transplants.

The Ethics of Forced Organ Donation

In 2003, California and New Mexico tried but failed to pass legislation that would presume assent to organ donation, rather than a requiring an explicit written authorization, regarding all motorcyclists killed in accidents while not wearing a helmet. The two states decided the government did not have the right to claim body parts in lieu of adherence to law. Many states without helmet laws followed California’s and New Mexico’s lead.

Responsible Motorcyclists

Motorcyclists are a community of their own. The subject of helmet laws among them is a matter of vehement opinion, whether for or against. Most love the freedom of riding without a helmet. Others fear helmets, saying they “jeopardize” their safety by cutting down peripheral vision and that neck injuries increase by 40 percent with helmet use. Viewing the issue as a matter of personal choice, they insist that those who ride should decide. Many supporters are rallying the riders to accept more responsibility by taking out insurance and signing donor cards.

Donor Cards and Those on Donor Waiting Lists

Anxiety prevails in the homes and hearts of families with a fatally ill member – most thoughts are centered on the afflicted loved one. The hope of extending his or her life is may be the only comfort to which family and friends have to cling. Today, there are 100,000 such people needing organ transplants. The nationwide organ transplant waiting list grows by one name every 10 minutes, and each day 18 people die while waiting for an organ. Therefore, a signed donor card is the ultimate gift:  that of giving another human being a life-sustaining organ or other needed transplant, such as bone, eyes, tissue, or skin.

Organ Donors on the Rise

Motorcycle fatalities are rising as older people are now riding and joining the ranks of others who refuse to wear helmets. Because of these trends, more organ donors are becoming available. Is it best to pass laws requiring motorcyclists to wear safety helmets, and let those on organ donor waiting lists die? Or, is it conscionable to not pass such laws and continue to let motorcyclists die, thus ensuring plenty of donor organs?

This guest article addresses organ donation, an issue I feel strongly about.  If you are not an organ donor, please visit http://donatelife.net/ and consider becoming one today.

If you would like to submit a guest article or suggest a topic for a future post, please use the Contact page.

Posted in: Health, Medicine