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Organ Donation FAQ

We answer frequently asked questions (FAQ) about organ donation and transplantation.

How old do I have to be to sign up? 

All adults in the United States (U.S.) — and in some states, people under age 18 — can sign up to be an organ donor. Doctors decide at the time of death if someone is a good fit. Often, a parent or guardian needs to give permission to allow someone under age 18 to donate.

Is there an age limit?

There’s no age limit to organ donation. Newborns and older adults have been organ donors. The health of your organs is more important than your age. The transplant team will decide at the time of death if donation is possible.

Do you have to be a U.S. citizen to donate or receive organs in the U.S.?

No. You can donate and receive organs in the U.S. even if you don’t live in the country or aren’t a U.S. citizen. Doctors give organs to people based on medical need, not citizenship.

If I have an illness, can I still donate?

 You may be a donor even if you have an illness. When you die, doctors will decide if donation is possible.

Can I be an organ and tissue donor and donate my body to medical science?

Total body donation is often not an option if you choose to be an organ and tissue donor. You may still be an eye donor. Some medical schools and research groups may accept an organ donor for research. 

If you wish to donate your entire body, arrange that with the medical school of your choice. 

Can I sign up as an organ donor?

Anyone over age 18 can sign up. In many states, people younger than 18 can sign up as well. There are several ways to sign up.

  1. Sign up online now in your state. It’s quick and easy.
  2. Visit your state motor vehicle office to sign up.

Let your family know about your decision. If the time comes, they won’t feel surprised and can help carry out your wishes. The transplant team may ask them for information.

What happens when I sign up in my state?

When you sign up in your state, you're giving permission to donate your organs when you die. Usually, that means dying in a hospital and on artificial support. You will stay on your state's registry unless you remove yourself.

I have an organ donor card. Is that enough?

No. You may not have the card with you or it may get missed 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. It’s also important to share your wishes with your family. Most families want to carry out the wishes of their loved one. Be sure to tell them how you feel.

Can I choose what I want to donate?

Most states give you the option to choose which organs and tissues you want to donate, or to donate everything usable. Check with your state registry.

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 mark 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 need to change your license at your local motor vehicle office.

If I sign up as a donor, will doctors carry out my wishes?

If you’re over 18 and signed up as a deceased donor in your state registry, you have legally given permission for your donation. No one can change your consent. Signing a card isn't enough. If you’re under 18, your parents or legal guardian must give permission for your donation.

What organs and tissues can I donate? 

  • Eight vital organs: heart, kidneys (2), pancreas, lungs (2), liver, intestines, hands, and face
  • Tissue: cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissue
  • Bone marrow and stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC)

Learn more about what donations are acceptable.

If I'm a registered donor, will it affect the medical care I receive at the hospital?

No. When you go to a hospital, saving your life comes first. Donation doesn’t become a possibility until all lifesaving methods have failed. The medical team trying to save your life is separate from the transplant team.

Will donation damage my body? Can I have an open-casket funeral?

Hospital workers treat your body with care and respect during the donation process. You can donate your organs, eyes, and tissues and still have an open-casket funeral.

Will my family pay for donation?

No. Your family pays for your medical care and funeral costs. They don’t pay to donate your organs. Insurance or the people who receive the organ donation pay those costs.

Can I sell my organs?

No. You may not sell your organs. It’s against U.S. federal law to buy or sell organs. People who buy or sell organs may face prison sentences and fines. 

One reason Congress made this law was to make sure rich people do not unfairly receive donated organs and tissues. (Source: Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (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 match each other.

How does a donor organ match to someone who needs it?

A national computer system matches donated organs to people who need them.

It bases matching decisions on things like blood type, time spent waiting, and geographic location.

I'd like to donate a kidney to someone. How can I find out if I’m a match?

In the U.S., you can donate a kidney to a family member, friend, or anyone on the waiting list while you’re alive. They will test to see if you’re a match and if you’re healthy enough to have surgery.

Remember that there’s a lot to do before they can consider you a living donor. Get a list of the living donation steps you need to take.

How many people are waiting for organs?

The number of people waiting for organs changes every day. As of February 2021, the number was over 108,000. Every 9 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list.

You can find the recent data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. The number of people who need a lifesaving transplant continues to go up faster than the number of available organs.

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. Some diseases that cause end-stage organ failure are more common in these groups of people.

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.

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

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