Organ donation is the donation of biological tissue or an organ of the human body from a living or dead person to a living recipient in need of a transplantation. Transplantable organs and tissues are removed in a surgical procedure following a determination, based on the donor's medical and social history, of which are suitable for transplantation. Such procedures are termed allotransplantations; distinguish them from xenotransplantation transfer of animal organs into human bodies.
Experts say that the organs from one donor can save or help as many as 50 people. Organs you can donate include
- Internal organs: Kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs
- Bone and bone marrow
Most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died. But some organs and tissues can be donated while the donor is alive.
People of all ages and background can be organ donors. If you are under age 18, your parent or guardian must give you permission to become a donor. If you are 18 or older you can show you want to be a donor by signing a donor card. You should also let your family know your wishes.
Who Can Be a Donor
Who can become a donor?
- All individuals can indicate their intent to donate (persons younger than 18 years of age must have a parent's or guardian's consent). Medical suitability for donation is determined at the time of death.
Are there age limits for donors?
- There are no age limitations on who can donate. Whether you can donate depends on your physical condition, not age. Newborns as well as senior citizens have been organ donors.
If I have a previous medical condition, can I still donate?
- Yes! Transplant professionals will evaluate the condition of your organs at the time of your death and determine if your organs are suitable for donation. You should consider yourself a potential organ and tissue donor, indicate your intent to donate on your driver's license, donor card, or state donor registry, and discuss your decision with family members.
Can I be an organ and tissue donor and also donate my body to medical science?
- Total body donation generally is not an option if you choose to be an organ and tissue donor. Eye donors still may be accepted. Also, there are a few medical schools and research organizations that still may accept an organ donor for research. If you wish to donate your entire body, you should contact the medical organization of your choice directly and make arrangements. Medical schools, research facilities, and other agencies study bodies to understand how disease affects human beings. This research is vital to saving and improving lives.
Why should minorities be particularly concerned about organ donation?
- Minorities overall have a particularly high need for organ transplants because some diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas, and liver are found more frequently in racial and ethnic minority populations than in the general population. For example, African Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics/Latinos are three times more likely than Whites to suffer from end-stage renal (kidney) disease, often as the result of high blood pressure and other conditions that can damage the kidneys. Native Americans are four times more likely than Whites to suffer from diabetes. Some of these conditions that can result in organ failure are best treated through transplantation and others can only be treated by this life-saving procedure. In addition, similar blood type is essential in matching donors to recipients. Because certain blood types are more common in ethnic minority populations, increasing the number of minority donors can increase the frequency of minority transplants.
How to Be a Donor
How can I become an organ donor?
- Each organ and tissue donor saves or improves the lives of as many as 50 people. Giving the "Gift of Life" may lighten the grief of the donor's own family. Many donor families say that knowing other lives have been saved helps them cope with their tragic loss.
- Register with your state donor registry, if available.
- Designate your decision on your driver’s license.
- Talk to your Family. To help your family understand and carry out your wishes, sit down with your loved ones and tell them about your decision to be an organ and tissue donor. They can serve as your advocate and may be asked to give consent for donation or provide information to the transplant team.
If I register as a donor will my wishes be carried out?
- Even if you are a registered donor, it is essential that your family know your wishes. Your family may be asked to sign a consent form in order for your donation to occur. If you wish to learn how organ donation preferences are documented and honored where you live, contact your local organ procurement organization (OPO). The OPO can advise you of specific local procedures, such as joining donor registries that are available to residents in your area.
What organs and tissues can be donated?
- Organs: heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, and intestines
- Tissue: cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissue Bone marrow/stem cells, umbilical cord blood, peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC)
How are donated organs distributed?
- Patients are matched to organs based on a number of factors including blood and tissue typing, medical need, time on the waiting list, and geographical location.
- Despite continuing efforts at public education, misconceptions and inaccuracies about donation persist. Learn these facts to better understand organ, eye and tissue donation:
- Fact: A national computer system and strict standards are in place to ensure ethical and fair distribution of organs. Organs are matched by blood and tissue typing, organ size, medical urgency, waiting time and geographic location.
- Fact: People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves potential donors. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissue can be donated.
- Fact: Organs and tissues that can be donated include: heart, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, corneas, skin, tendons, bone, and heart valves.
- Fact: Even if you have indicated your wishes on your drivers’ license, state donor registry or a donor card, share your decision with your family so they know your wishes.
- Fact: Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions. .
- Fact: There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for organ and tissue donation.
- Fact: If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Organ donation can only be considered after brain death has been declared by a physician.
- Fact: Information about an organ donor is only released to the recipient if the family of the donor requests or agrees to it. Otherwise, a patient’s privacy is maintained for both donor families and recipients.
- Fact: Living donation increases the existing organ supply.