Organ Donation FAQs

Get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about organ donation and transplantation.

Who can become an organ donor?

All adults in the U.S. and in some states people under the age of 18 can indicate their commitment to donation by signing up to be an organ donor. Whether someone is suitable for donation is determined at the time of death. Authorization by a parent or guardian is generally necessary for individuals under 18 who have died to become an actual donor. Learn more about who can donate >

Are there age limits for donating your organs?

There are no age limitations on who can donate. Newborns as well as senior citizens have been organ donors. Whether or not you can donate depends on your physical condition and the condition of your organs, not age.

Can non-residents donate and receive organs in the U.S.?

Non-resident aliens—people who don't live in the U.S. or aren't citizens—can donate and receive organs in the United States. Organs are given to patients according to medical need, not citizenship.

However, only about 1 in 100 people who receive transplants are non U.S. residents.
 
If I have a medical condition, can I still donate?

Don't rule yourself out from being an organ donor because you have a health condition. You're always encouraged to register. There are very few conditions that would prevent someone from being an organ, eye, or tissue donor—such as HIV infection, active cancer, or a systemic infection. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.

The transplant team will determine what can be used at the time of your death based on a clinical evaluation, medical history and other factors. Even if there's only one organ or tissue that can be used, that's one life saved or improved.

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. However eye donors still may be accepted. There are also a few medical schools and research organizations that 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.

Can I register as an organ donor?

Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to sign up, and in many states, people younger than 18 can register as well. There are several ways to sign up.

  1. You can register online now in your state. Signing up is quick and easy. Find your state >
  2. You can also sign up when you visit your state motor vehicle office.

Either way, be sure to tell your family about your decision. If the time comes, they won’t be surprised and they can help carry out your wishes. They may be asked to provide information to the transplant team.

What am I signing up for when I register?

When you register as an organ donor in your state, you're authorizing donation of your organs if you die in circumstances that make donation possible. Generally, that means dying in a hospital and on artificial support. You can read more about the deceased donation process here. You will remain on your state's registry unless you opt out.  

I have an organ donor card. Is that enough?

No. There's no way of knowing if the card would be with you or if it would be examined in the event of your death. If you wish to be a donor, sign up in your state registry.

I have my organ donor status on my driver's license. Is that enough?

That’s an important step, but it’s also important to share your wishes with your family. Most families want to carry out the wishes of their loved one, so please be sure to tell them how you feel.

Can I specify what I want to donate?

When registering online, most states give you the option to choose which organs and tissues you donate, or to donate everything that can be used. Check with your state registry to learn more.

Can I remove myself from the registered donors list?

Yes, you can change your donor status at any time. Look for an option such as "updating your status" on your state's site.

If you have a donor designation on your driver's license, removing yourself from the registry will not change that.  So, unless your state uses a removable sticker on the license to identify donors, you will likely need to change your license at your local motor vehicle office.

If I register as a donor, will my wishes be carried out?

If you signed up as a deceased donor in your state registry and you are over 18, then you have legally authorized your donation and no one can overrule your consent. Signing a card isn't enough. If you are under 18, your parents or legal guardian must authorize donation.

What organs and tissues can be donated?

  • Eight vital organs can be donated: heart, kidneys (2), pancreas, lungs (2), liver, and intestines. Hands and faces have also recently been added to the list.
  • Tissue: cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissue
  • Bone marrow and stem cells, umbilical cord blood, peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC)

Learn more about what can be donated >

If I'm a registered donor, will it affect the 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 becomes a possibility.

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. (Source: OPTN white paper on bioethics—Financial Incentives for Organ Donation, June 30, 1993)

Can people of different races and ethnicities match each other?

Yes. People of different ethnicities frequently match each other.

How are donated organs distributed?

Organs are matched to patients based on a number of factors, including blood and tissue typing, medical need, time on the waiting list, and geographical location. Learn more about the organ matching process >

I'd like to donate a kidney to someone. 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 many kidney transplant centers throughout the U.S. They will test to see if you are a match and if you are healthy enough to safely undergo surgery.

Remember that there is a lot to do before you can be considered a living donor. Get a list of the steps you need to take on our Living Donation page.

How many people are currently waiting for organs?

The number of patients waiting for organs varies every day. As of July 2017, the number is over 117,000. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list.

The number of patients now on the waiting list and other data are available on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network website. The number of people requiring a lifesaving transplant continues to rise faster than the number of available donors.

Why do minorities have a higher need for transplants? 

More than half of all people on the transplant waiting list are from a racial or ethnic minority group. That is because some diseases that cause end-stage organ failure are more common in these populations than in the general population.

For example, African Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics/Latinos are 3 times more likely than Whites to suffer from end-stage renal (kidney) disease, often as the result of high blood pressure.

Native Americans are 4 times more likely than Whites to suffer from diabetes.  An organ transplant is sometimes the best—or only—option for saving a life.

Sign Up as a Donor

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Take a few minutes to sign up online and leave behind the gift of life.

Register Now >