Back in my physics class, I always remembered a famous quote stated by Isaac Newton: “To every action, there is always an opposing reaction.” You might wonder what this quote has to do with the world of organ donation and transplantation. The truth is organ availability rates are a complex and delicate process. They can be affected by a variety of societal factors that can and do occur. They are directly tied to death rates. Therefore, as death rates increase, more organs become available for transplantation. Talk about your mixed bag.

Back 25 years ago when our government passed seat belt and helmet legislation for drivers of cars and motorcycles, the national death rates declined dramatically. For society, it was a good legislative act.  Less deaths equate to more saved lives. Unfortunately, that also meant there were less organs available for donation and transplantation. This increased waiting times for those awaiting possible life-saving organs. The long line became even longer. Today, it stands at more than 125,000 people nationwide.  Here in California, it is one of the longest waits. 

In the past five years, there has been an opioid epidemic, which has caused untold amounts of overdoses. Subsequently, this has increased death rates, which has created an uptick in the overall availability of organs for donation. Recently, there have been new regulations put in place to reduce the availability of opioids, particularly for the younger generation, and the net affect has led to more heroin addiction and the use of other non-prescribed drugs. This also increased the availability of organs and overall donation rates in a positive way.

Another factor affecting death rates and organ availability has been the increased use of driving services such as Uber and Lyft, which has reduced the incidences of drunk driving accidents. Here again, technology has created a good thing, which has had a negative impact on organ availability. But here’s an offsetting variable for the same technology. With the current problem of mobile phone usage while driving, there are a growing number of accidents leading to death. Surprisingly, this has also affected pedestrians who are not paying attention to where they are going. What is next? Think of what cars with autopilot will have or flying taxis one day. With every technological action, there is a corresponding reaction. Sound familiar?

It’s hard to think this way about the way we live our lives. Obviously, we want to save lives and reduce death rates. Yet, we also want to promote organ donation so that we can save more lives. It’s a fine line to balance. If we can increase donation rates, I think the problem is ultimately solved. I think Sir Isaac Newton would even agree with that.