Are you an organ donor? Here are the answers to 8 common donor questions

Donated organs and tissue save almost 40,000 lives a year in the United States. But when faced with the opportunity to become a donor, some people hesitate.

To comfortably make a decision about organ and tissue donation, it’s helpful to understand the facts: how it helps, who can do it and how it will affect you as the donor.

Why is organ and tissue donation important?

The organs of one deceased person can save up to eight lives. Tissue donations help to repair injuries, improve body defects and restore eyesight. Tissue and eye donation from just one person can enhance the quality of life for more than 75 other people.

According to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant. And every nine minutes, someone else is added to the transplant list.

What body parts can be donated?

Medical research continues to uncover new ways to use donated organs and tissue. People can choose to give certain organs or tissue while they are living or register to become a donor when they die.

Deceased organ donation

Most people offer their organs for donation after death. But not all donors will die in a way that allows their organs to be used. Not all illnesses and accidents leave organs intact and viable for donation.

Organ donation is only considered after the medical team confirms brain death, with no possible recovery. Commonly donated organs include:

  • Eyes
  • Heart
  • Intestines
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Pancreas

Living organ and tissue donation

In some cases, tissue and organs are harvested from living donors between the ages of 18 and 60 who are in good health. Living donors account for about 40% of all donations and may provide:

  • Organs, including a kidney, a lung, or a portion of the liver, pancreas or intestines
  • Tissue, such as skin, blood and bone marrow
  • Bone, after knee and hip replacements

Who can be an organ donor?

In 2019, one out of every three people who donated organs was older than 50. The oldest person in the United States to donate an organ was 92. The most important aspect of organ donation is the health of the organs, not the age.

If you choose to be a deceased organ donor, doctors will examine your organs after your death to see if they are suitable. Only a few conditions compromise your ability to donate – active cancer and systemic infection. Many people with other illnesses or health conditions have healthy organs that may benefit another person.

Will being a donor compromise my medical care?

Whenever a patient goes to a hospital for an illness or accident, the medical team does everything possible to save that patient’s life. Whether the person is a registered organ donor is not a consideration.

The physicians working to save your life are not the transplant team that recovers donor organs. A national procurement organization that coordinates organ donation is only contacted after a person is declared dead.

Will I have to pay for medical expenses associated with recovering my organs?

When you register to be an organ or tissue donor, there is no associated cost for you or your family. Donors and their families are only responsible for medical expenses incurred before death.

Does my religion support organ donation?

In response to increased awareness and participation in organ donation, most religions within the U.S. support and encourage it. Speak with your faith leader to understand your religion’s specific response to organ donation.

Can I have an open casket at my funeral after donating organs or tissue?

Organ donors are treated with respect and dignity. Professional surgeons remove organs and tissue in a sterile environment during a surgery. Donors are not disfigured, and an open casket funeral is usually possible following organ, eye and tissue donation.

How can I register as an organ donor?

Registration happens at the state level. In California, you can register to be a donor either online or when you renew your driver’s license.

When you agree to be a donor, you have the option to specify limitations on what organs and tissues you want to donate. You can even limit the use of your donation.

If you have questions about organ donation, talk to your primary care provider.



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