What Law and Order: SVU Got Wrong

First, let us say that we love Law and Order: SVU as much as the next person (#BringBackStabler). We know that sometimes making good television means sacrificing the truth and misrepresenting important facts. But last week’s controversial episode about organ, eye, and tissue donation may not just sacrifice the truth and portray false information – it may be costing people their lives. The episode was riddled with myths and misconceptions about the donation and transplantation process that may influence people’s decisions about whether or not to register as an organ donor. Since one donor can save up to 8 lives through organ donation and enhance more than 75 lives as a tissue donor, the impact of losing even one registered donor can be severe. We need to demand more from our favorite shows.

The episode, called “Dare,” depicted a young girl who died from a head injury while acting on a dare from her friends. The doctor appointed to treat the girl donated her organs without her parent’s authorization. Here are 5 things that this episode got very, very wrong.

  1. The doctor was in charge of the whole donation and transplantation process.

    • This is not how it happens in the real world. It is not just one person that facilitates the donation and transplantation process – it’s several teams whose roles are kept separate. The hospital team who initially treats a patient is solely focused on saving their lives.
    • If a patient progresses to brain death (the irreversible loss of all brain functions), there will extensive tests performed over a number hours by a doctor(s) unrelated to the donation and transplant process before death is declared. The hospital, following very specific policies, will refer the patient who meets these criteria to their designated organ procurement organization (OPO).
    • A specially trained team from the OPO will then evaluate for the option of organ donation, check the organ donor registry, speak with the patient’s family, and carry out organ recovery IF, and only IF, the patient was designated and/or the family authorized donation.,
  2. Only one simple form is needed to authorize organ donation.

    • In the episode, the doctor is tried in court for forging the signature of 32 families. In reality, the process of donation consent is much more detailed and involves several family meetings. The process includes obtaining the donor’s medical history from the family, providing grief support, dialogue about the steps forward, and answering any questions the family may have. Regardless of whether the patient becomes a donor, the family is supported along the way.
  3. Olivia Benson talks to the family about the decision to donate.

    • It is strongly advised that the donation conversation take place with trained professionals from the OPO. Often known as family services coordinators, these people are social workers and grief counselors and are trained to help grieving families at this difficult time in their lives. While the topic may occasionally be brought up by hospital staff or even law enforcement in very rare circumstances, this is never recommended and is very out of the ordinary.
  4. The doctor completed the recovery procedure in the patient’s hospital room and the family couldn’t see the patient.

    • Organ recovery takes place in an operating room and is similar to other standard surgical procedures. Family members are welcomed to say their last goodbyes while family service coordinators provide grief support. After the last goodbyes, the family leaves and the transplant surgical team comes in. Organs are recovered by the transplant team and allocated to help save the lives of those on the organ transplant list.
  5. The parent’s decision to not consent to organ donation was met with shame and guilt from others.

    • When it comes to organ, eye, and tissue donation, no decision is a wrong decision. Each person has a right to decide what is best for them and for their family. We take great care to never pressure an individual or family into making a decision they will regret. Our role is to educate, empower, and inspire people to make a decision that is right for them. Our family service coordinators support families regardless of their donation decision.

 

While Law and Order: SVU puts a disclaimer on stories like these stating that the story depicted is fiction, it doesn’t negate the influence the crime drama has on its viewers. As long as the entertainment industry continues to perpetuate myths and misconceptions about organ, eye, and tissue donation, they are actively causing lives to be lost. Organ donation is very rare and it is vital that we all do our part to share the TRUTH about this life-saving process.

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