Organ Donor FAQs
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.
Can non-resident aliens donate and receive organs?
Non-resident aliens can both donate and receive organs in the United States. Organs are given to patients according to medical need, not citizenship. In 2001, 334 (2.7%) of the 12,375 organ donors were non-resident aliens. In this same year, 259 (1%) of the 23,998 transplants performed were on non-resident aliens.
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 th e frequency of minority transplants. For more information on minorities and organ donation, visit the Web site of the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program at http://www.mottep.org
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)
To learn more about donating bone marrow or a cord blood unit, see:
If I'm a registered donor, will it affect the quality of medical care I receive at the hospital?
No! The medical team trying to save your life is separate from the transplant team. Every effort is made to save your life before donation is considered.
Will donation disfigure my body? Can there be an open casket funeral?
Donation does not interfere with having an open casket service. Surgical techniques are used to retrieve organs and tissues, and all incisions are closed.
Are there any costs to my family for donation?
No. Your family pays for your medical care and funeral costs, but not for organ donation. Costs related to donation are paid by the recipient, usually through insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.
Can I sell my organs?
No! The National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507) makes it illegal to sell human organs and tissues in the United States. Violators are subject to fines and imprisonment. One reason Congress made this law was to make sure the wealthy do not have an unfair advantage for obtaining donated organs and tissues. (OPTN white paper on bioethics—Financial Incentives for Organ Donation, June 30, 1993)
How many people are currently waiting for each organ to become available so they can have a transplant?
The number of patients now on the waiting list and other data are available at Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network: www.optn.org . The number of people requiring a life-saving transplant continues to rise faster than the number of available donors. Approximately 300 new transplant candidates are added to the waiting list each month.
If I would like to donate a kidney to someone I know who is in need, how can I be tested to see if I am a match?
Within the United States, living donations of a kidney can be made to a family member, friend, or anyone on the waiting list. Living donations are arranged through one of several transplant centers throughout the U.S. Before anyone can be considered as a donor, the individual must undergo a complete physical, as well as a psychosocial evaluation by the transplant center where they intend to make the donation. The internet is a good source of living donor information on sites such as the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)—www.unos.org
—on the Living Donation page and the National Kidney Foundation . UNOS is our Federal contractor that manages the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN)—www.optn.org . UNOS has a toll free number for any questions you may have about living donation, transplant centers, or the transplant process. The number is 1.888.TXINFO1 (894.6361).
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.