What To Know About Organ Donation

Saving lives is something most people leave to professionals, but we all have the opportunity to save lives by becoming organ and tissue donors. This selfless act can make a huge difference in the lives of others in your community. Learn more about organ donation and what it involves, and consider whether you want to sign up for this life-saving process.

What is Organ Donation?

Organ donation is giving one or more of your organs to someone whose organ(s) has stopped working or is close to failing. There are two main types of organ donors: living donors can donate part or all of a functioning organ and deceased donors can donate organs and tissues in good condition. Transplanting donated organs is a routine surgical operation in the United States that is highly successful. One donor can save up to eight lives with their organs.

How Do You Become an Organ Donor?

You can register to be an organ donor when you get a driver’s license or by signing up with your state’s donor registry. To register, you must be over the age of 18 or have the permission of your parent or legal guardian; there is no upper age limit. Registering doesn’t automatically mean you’ll become an organ donor. It authorizes the donation of your organs if you die in a way that makes donation possible. You can remove yourself from this list at any time.

Talk with your family about your decision to be an organ donor. They’ll need to provide written consent at the time of your death, so don’t let it catch them by surprise. Make your desire known so that your family is prepared to carry out your wishes.

If you wish to become a living donor, you’ll need to work with the recipient’s hospital to get tested as a donor.

What is the Process of Donation?

The process for you and your family is simple. It starts when you register to be a donor and talk with your family about it. If you die under circumstances that make donation possible, usually in a hospital on artificial support, then your body is supported artificially and the local organ procurement organization (OPO) is contacted. The OPO checks your registry status and sends someone to talk to your next of kin about donation. With the family’s consent, the OPO assumes care of the donor and looks for matches for your organs. Once recipients are found, the organs are surgically removed and sent to transplant hospitals and the waiting candidates. The donor is then prepared for the funeral according to the family’s wishes.

What Organs can be Donated?

There are a number of organs and tissues that can be donated. When you register online with your state, you may have the option to choose whether you want to only donate certain organs or make any of them available. Donated organs and tissues include the following:

  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Kidneys
  • Pancreas
  • Intestines
  • Hands
  • Face
  • Cornea
  • Skin
  • Bone
  • Heart valves
  • Blood vessels
  • Connective tissue
  • Bone marrow and stem cells
  • Peripheral blood stem cells
  • Umbilical cord blood

When the transplant team receives a donor, they determine which organs and tissues are usable based on medical history, a clinical evaluation and other factors.

Will Registering Impact Hospital Care?

Some people worry that registering as a donor will make them less likely to receive life-saving treatments at the hospital. This is not true. The medical team makes every effort to save your life before donation becomes a possibility. The team caring for you at the hospital is different than the transplant team and they often don’t even have access to the registry to determine whether or not you are a donor.

Does Organ Donation Cost Anything?

You and your family don’t pay anything to donate your organs. You also don’t receive any payment for the organs because it is illegal to sell human tissues and organs in the United States.

How are Organs Distributed?

People in need of organ transplants are listed on a national waiting list maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). When an OPO gets donated organs, they provide information about the donor and the available organs to the UNOS. UNOS uses characteristics like the following to look for medical compatibility between the donor and potential recipients:

  • Blood type
  • Age
  • Weight

How long the person has been on the waiting list and their urgency of need are also taken into account. Potential matches close to the donor are offered the organs first, followed by regional potential matches, and finally national potential matches.

How Many People are Waiting for Organs?

The number of people on the waiting list for life-saving organ transplants continues to rise faster than the number of donors available. Currently, there are more than 115,000 waiting list candidates, with another person added every 10 minutes.

Does Donating Organs Interfere with Donating to Medical Science?

Some people wish to donate their bodies to medical science after death. In this case, it may still be possible to donate organs and tissues as well. Contact the medical organization of your choice and find out what their policies are for accepting whole body donations.

Does Organ Donation Cause Disfigurement?

Donated organs are surgically removed from the body and the incisions are closed, so the donor doesn’t suffer disfigurement. Open casket funerals are still possible after organ donation.

There are many things to consider as you think about becoming an organ donor. Now that you have more information about the process, consider the possibility of registering as a donor and helping to save lives.