By donating an organs or tissue, you could save the lives or ease the suffering of many people. Meanwhile, donating your body for medical research can greatly lessen the financial burden of cremation or burial for surviving family members, while contributing to the advancement of medical education.
What are organ and tissue donations? What organs can I donate? How do you become an organ donor? What organs are in the highest demand? How can you be sure that your wishes for donation will be honored? This article of SevenPonds will attempt to answer your questions.
Things to Know:
- You may elect to donate specific organs and tissue, or your entire body.
- People of all ages can become organ and tissue donors.
- Approximately 750,000 tissue transplants occur annually in the U.S.
- In 2010, approximately 6,500 Americans died waiting for an organ donation transplant.
- Being a registered organ donor IS NOT a guarantee that your wishes to donate will be honored, but there are steps you can take to better protect your donation.
What kind of organ, tissue, or body donations can I arrange?
Before death, you can donate organs and bone marrow.
After death, you can donate organs, bone marrow, tissue, and entire body for medical research and education.
To view a list of what specifically you can donate, see our After Death Guide.
Can I become an organ and tissue donor?
Anyone can become a donor regardless of age, race, or medical history, and each case is considered individually after death. Medical history is more important than age; even adults in their 90s have become organ and tissue donors.
What organs are commonly donated?
Currently, kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, and small intestine are the most common organ donations. According to the Organ Procurement and Transport Network, about 8,000 Americans become organ donors after death each year, while more than 100,000 Americans are waiting for organ transplants at any given time.
What is tissue?
Tissue is a wide-ranging term for a collection of biological cells, grouped together to carry out a specific function; bone, skin, corneas, tendons and ligaments, cartilage, arteries and veins, and heart valves are all examples of different kinds of tissue. These days, tissue transplantation is a routine part of patient care, and approximately 750,000 tissue transplants occur in the U.S. each year.
How do I arrange for an organ and tissue donation?
Most states, but not all, have donor registries, allowing you to designate yourself as an organ donor when you renew your driver’s license. You may also sign and carry an organ donor card. See the national organ donor website for information on registering in your state.
You should also document your organ and tissue donation preferences in your advance health care directives.
Can I decide what organs or tissue I wish to donate?
Yes. Most states allow you to opt out of donating organs and tissue for medical research and may allow you to opt out of donating specific organs or tissues for transplantation as well. They may also allow you to set additional conditions, such as that your donated tissue may be used only for life-saving or reconstructive purposes or that your organs and tissue can only be distributed in the United States.
If I document my organ and tissue donation preferences, will my wishes be honored?
Each state has highly specific laws and requirements for organ donation. Even if you carry a donor card, obtain an "organ donor" designation on your driver’s license, and state your preferences in advance health care directives, your preferences may still be ignored. For example, your state may also require the consent of the closest relative before organ and tissue donation may proceed. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly research your state’s laws for organ donation and to make certain your family supports your wishes.
Should my family know about my decision?
By all means, discuss your decision to become an organ donor with your family; in fact, some states even require family consent in accepting a new organ or tissue donor. Make your family aware that none of them will incur the cost of an organ and tissue donation. It is probably wise to designate a relative to serve as your advocate for donation at the time of your death.
How is a potential organ recipient identified?
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) maintains a national, computerized list of candidates for transplant. Medical compatibility (i.e. tissue type and blood type match), time on the waiting list, medical urgency, and geographic location are used to identify the most suitable donation recipients. For more information on organ donation allocation, see Transplant Living, a website operated by UNOS.
Will organ donation affect my family's disposition or remembrance event plans?
You can still hold a viewing of a body that has undergone organ donation. The procedure will leave a scar, like any surgery. Your family will still be able to hold a ceremony of their choosing, whether that be a home funeral, cremation, or natural burial.
How do I donate my body to science?
If you choose to donate your entire body to science or medical research, contact a nearby medical research facility, such as a university medical school. Every facility has different requirements and donation timelines, so you will want to look into this as early as possible. You can also make arrangements to donate your body for medical research and training through a body donation organization.
When planning whole body donation, be sure to discuss any plans you may also have for organ and tissue donation. If you intend to donate organs and tissue upon your death, you most likely will not be eligible to also donate your body to a medical research facility. As with organ and tissue donation, you should document your plans for whole body donation in your advance health care directives, and inform your family of your decision. These steps will help to ensure that your donations are conducted in best accordance with your wishes.