Become an Organ Donor
July 6, 2018
It has been nearly 65 years since surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston successfully transplanted a kidney between living identical twin brothers. Since that time, transplants have become established medical procedures. Coupling advances in medicine with the gift of organ donations, transplants are saving or extending the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Some hard facts about organ donation are that over 115,000 people across the United States currently wait for a transplant and some 5000 of those individuals live within New England. Some harder facts still are that another individual is added to the list every 10 minutes and that approximately 20 people die each day while waiting for a lifesaving transplant. As powerful as these numbers may be, unless you have a direct or personal connection, unfortunately, organ donation is often not a topic you may think or know much about.
In the most basic description, those waiting for a transplant hope to be matched with a donor organ in order to receive the lifesaving help needed. Individuals who have a failed or failing organ, and after having been determined to be a good candidate for a transplant, are put on a national transplant waiting list. This list is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) whose systems help ensure that the available organs are best matched with waiting patients. This short video provides a thorough overview of the organ donation process.
Donors and Donations
There are a number of organs and tissues that can be transplanted. These include the heart, lung, kidney, liver, pancreas, intestines, cornea, and tissues such as skin and bones. Based on the designated organs donated, a single donor could in fact, save as many as eight other lives. With ongoing advance in medical care and procedures, the types of organs and tissues that can be successfully transplanted continues to grow. Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service organdonor.gov for more information and a more comprehensive list of what can be donated.
To help someone who may have a long and undetermined wait for an available organ, loved-ones, relatives, friends, and even individuals who may wish to remain anonymous, can become living donors. Living donors are able to provide a valuable alternative to those waiting for a matching organ from a deceased donor. Of the approximately 35,000 transplants done in 2017, roughly 20% were live donor transplants. There are a number of specific issues, policies, and determinants in becoming a living donor.
The other, perhaps more typical type of donation is a deceased donation. That is, an individual decides to share the gift of life by donating after their own death. When the donor dies, a series of specific activities swing into to action from evaluating the viability of the organs that can be transplanted to matching the patient on the national waiting list. Although every case is unique, UNOS provides a broader description of the deceased donation process.
Answers to common questions and misconceptions
- Regardless of health, age, race, or ethnicity, nearly anyone can become an organ donor. Although done on a case-by-case basis, medical evaluation at the time of death will determine whether organs and tissues can be donated.
- Being a donor has no effect on the level and type of care they receive. Medical staff will do their utmost to save the donor/patient’s life. It is only after an individual is declared dead that donation is even considered.
- Most major religions support donations as a charitable and compassionate act.
- Income, social stature, or celebrity are not considered when allocating and matching donor with recipient.
- Though families may be responsible for medical expenses prior to death and for the cost of funeral arrangements, the charges for organ or tissue recovery, processing, and transplant procedures are never incurred by the deceased donor’s family or estate.
- Being a donor does not change the choice for funeral or cremation services, including the option for an open casket.
- An organ donor’s privacy is always respected. No donor information is released to the recipient unless the donor directs or authorizes it.
Become a Registered Donor
Once that personal decision is made to become an organ donor, registering is a fast and easy way to make your wishes known. Registration gives legal consent to donate organs and tissues and provides an electronic record of the decision to become a donor. It is important to share this decision with family and designated healthcare proxy.
To become a donor and register on-line, go to Donate Life America’s National Donate Life Registry. Once registered, donors can update, specify donation preferences, or remove their registration at any time at RegisterMe.org. Registration can also be made through each state’s motor vehicle license process.
Making the decision to become an organ donor is a very personal choice, and for many, the most important factor is the opportunity to help.
For more information
For additional information and links to other related resources, please visit End With Care’s end-of-life topic page on Organ Donation.