For many of us, the only thought we give to organ donation is the quick conversation with the lady behind the counter at the driver’s license station when she asks if you want that designation on your license.

“Sure,” we might say, without thinking much about what we’re committing to.

Or maybe you were the parent at the licensing station, signing on the dotted line to license a young driver. If your teenager says he or she wants to be an organ donor, the worker will look to you for confirmation. Parental approval is required for drivers younger than 18.

Still, even when it’s your child’s organs you’re discussing, that conversation about the hypothetical doesn’t have much gravity.

The idea of facing that decision for real is something that most parents don’t want to think about. Ever.

Maggie Thiltgen, of East Dubuque, Ill., didn’t want to have to think about organ donation. But when her 17-year-old son, Jordan Duerr, was gravely injured in a car accident, she and her family had to. After experiencing the most devastating thing a parent can endure, Thiltgen had to contemplate performing the ultimate act of altruism. The family had to decide whether to donate Jordan’s organs, so that the lives of others might be saved.

When you’re standing at the driver’s licensing station, that’s not a difficult decision.

When you’re standing in a hospital, in a moment of tragedy and crisis, talking to medical professionals, it becomes a whole different conversation. Saving the lives of strangers is a hard thing to wrap your brain around when the one life you most want to save is slipping away, out of your control.

But for Thiltgen, the decision to do so made perfect sense. It was what her son would have wanted.

Thiltgen — and thousands of people like her — had the courage and presence of mind to consider the needs of others in the midst of their own heartbreaking sadness. Jordan became an organ donor, giving a second chance at life to others.

In each case of organ donation, the act provides the gift of hope. Nearly 600 Iowans are on a waiting list for an organ transplant. In Wisconsin, more than 1,600 are waiting. In Illinois, 3,900.

Every day, 17 Americans die while waiting for an organ transplant.

But there’s good news, too. Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. Awareness is growing. The number of transplants has risen steadily over the past three decades. Nearly 1.6 million Iowans are registered as donors.

But greater awareness and even more people willing to be donors are needed. While 90% of people say they support organ donation, only 60% are actually registered. Medical advances are extending the lives of patients, so the need for new organs is also growing. Also, the process of organ donation is extremely complicated. Circumstances must be just so to even consider harvesting an organ. So, even if every eligible person was willing to be a donor, there’s no guarantee the need would disappear.

All the more reason that every person should consider being a potential organ donor. It doesn’t matter what your age is or what your medical history has been — most people would be eligible to be donors. It’s the patient’s condition at the time of death that determines whether organs and tissue can be donated.

Making the decision to be an organ donor yourself is relatively painless. Making that decision on behalf of a loved one near death can be extraordinarily difficult.

Today’s front-page story highlights families like those of Jordan Duerr who felt compelled to pass on the gift of life. Their stories illustrate the importance of talking about organ donation in advance. Planning ahead can help families so they aren’t blindsided by a difficult decision at a time of tragedy.

If you aren’t already registered as an organ donor, consider adding your name to the list. If you are registered, make sure your family and friends know what your wishes are. That could help your loved ones make the tough end-of-life decision.

With gratitude, we commend the families featured today and all those who found the strength to give the gift of life.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.

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