Organ Donations Spike Around Motorcycle Rallies

Laura Siminoff, a professor at Temple University and expert on organ donation who was not involved in the study, said it was “kind of obvious” that motorcycle rallies would be associated with greater numbers of fatal injuries. The more important implication, she said, was that hospitals and organ-procurement organizations were doing their jobs by facilitating donations from eligible patients.

In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are among the most common circumstances leading to organ donations by deceased people, which can only take place under certain conditions. Deceased donors have typically suffered catastrophic brain injuries but their other organs are sufficiently healthy to transplant. About one in 30 people who die in motor vehicle crashes ultimately becomes an organ donor. (Last year, about 6,500 living people donated a kidney or part of their liver, too.)

The researchers showed that the motorcycle rallies were not associated with upticks in the number of organ donors who died of strokes or drug overdoses, other circumstances that commonly allow for donations. During the weeks of the rallies, there were no observable changes in organ donation in non-neighboring regions, which made it less likely to be some unknown factor causing an increase in organ donation.

Kevin Myer, president of LifeGift Organ Donation Center based in Houston, said most victims of fatal motorcycle crashes suffered significant injuries that rendered their organs unusable, which he suggested might have reduced the number of donations that otherwise would have been possible at the time of the rallies.

Most states that previously required all motorcyclists to wear helmets have relaxed those laws. Of the states where the major motorcycle rallies in the study occurred, none have universal helmet laws, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

“While I respect folks who love motorcycles and stuff like that, they really should wear their helmets,” Mr. Myer said.

Although the apparent effect the rallies had on the number of transplants was small, amounting to one additional donor for every two major motorcycle rallies, there are scores of motorcycle rallies held across the county each year.

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