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The Mysterious Human Heart The Mysterious Human Heart border=
A Series by David Grubin


(for high school biology or health classes)

In this activity, students work in groups to make and justify a decision about which organ should be donated to which patient in need. After watching the video clip online or the entire documentary of ENDLESSLY BEATING, have students brainstorm a list of questions that would have to be asked in order to match an organ donor with the proper recipient. Be sure to let the students know that other organs besides hearts can be transplanted, such as kidneys and livers. The brainstorming can be done as a whole class discussion or in small groups with one representative sharing the group's list with the class. After a good list of questions is generated, divide the class into research groups. Each group should then be allowed time to find information about organ donation, answering at least the following questions:
  • What body parts can be donated?
  • Who can donate organs?
  • How are organs and tissues harvested and distributed?
  • What sort of patient would make a good recipient?
  • How are donors and recipients matched?
  • How common are organ and tissue transplants throughout the world?
  • How long must recipients wait for an appropriate donor?
The teacher should prepare a pair of recipient case study cards for each group. These cards should list information about two different patients who are in need of the same organ. Teachers can find information about real patients on waiting lists at sites such as Donate Life America or The Gift of a Lifetime. Recipient cards may be loosely based on real patients' stories. Some sample cards are included as a download here.

After the student groups have completed their research on general organ and tissue transplantation, each group should be presented with a set of cards, with the premise that an organ has been found that would match either of the waiting list patients. The group then must decide which patient should get the organ and present a panel discussion that justifies their decision. Things that should be considered include:
  • Are there alternatives to transplant?
  • How is daily life affected before transplant?
  • Should income or insurance coverage be a factor?
If desired, the students could take on particular roles, such as hospital director, personal physician, family members, or insurance representative. The rest of the class listens to each case and should be asked if they agree or disagree with each panel's decision and why. Which panel presented the best arguments and why? Have students write their responses to the panel presentations. They can choose to write either from the viewpoint of someone on the organ waiting list or as an objective observer. This might be a good activity to include on a class blog site, if available.

Download Sample Case Study Cards
More Lesson Plans

Funding is provided by Medtronic, AstraZeneca, and Mars, Incorporated - makers of CocoaVia. Additional funding is provided by the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation. A co-production of David Grubin Productions, Thirteen/WNET New York and WETA Washington, D.C.
Medtronic AsrtaZeneca MARS Thirteen/WNET NEW YORK