Donating Organs

Every day, an average of 18 people on the waiting list for a transplant die because an organ isn't available, according to Donate Life America. Another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list every 12 minutes.

Statistics show that while nine of out 10 Americans say they support donation, only about one out of three knows the steps needed to become a donor. Often people intend to become an organ donor, but fail to discuss this with their family or doctors. At the critical moment, no one is aware of the individual's wishes.

Who Can Be A Kidney Donor

Because nearly everyone has two kidneys, it is possible for a living person to donate a kidney. This usually happens when two family members are closely matched and one needs a kidney. But it is also possible to make arrangements to donate a kidney after you have died.

  • Donated pancreases come only from deceased donors.
  • Anyone of any age, race or religion can be a potential donor.

Making Your Wishes Known

Once you have made the decision to become an organ donor, there are several ways that you can be sure that your wishes are known at the right time. These include:

  • Completing and carrying with a donor card or document or having a sign on your driver's license that you wish to be an organ donor.
  • Indicating your desire to be an organ donor in your will. If you do this, you should make your wishes known in other ways as well. These instructions may not be available or known in time to follow through on your wishes.
  • Stating your wishes in an advance health care directive. Copies of this directive should be given to your doctor, family members or friends or any hospital where you receive treatment.
  • Telling your family and loved ones that you want to be an organ donor. This assures that your wishes are fulfilled. It also gives loved ones the peace of mind of knowing what you intended.

Some states require a specific form to be competed before a person can become an organ donor. To find out whether this is so where you live, you can contact a local hospital, your doctor, a lawyer or your state's organ procurement organization.

It's also a good idea to provide a copy of your organ donor documentation to your health care provider and hospital to be kept with your medical records.

The Organ Donation Process

All 50 states in the United States have passed some form of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. This act spells out the process that allows a person to make a gift of organs and tissues at his or her death. It also allows family members to make organ donation decisions if there is no sign that the deceased was opposed to such a donation.

If a person is sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, every effort will be made to save the person's life. Organ or tissue donation can only happen after death. Nearly all states define this as either:

  • Brain death: the irreversible stopping of all functions of the brain; or
  • The irreversible stopping of blood circulation and breathing.

Organs such as the heart, lungs and pancreas can be used for transplantation only if they are removed from a person whose body is maintained on life support systems after he or she is declared brain dead. Life support is needed to keep blood and oxygen flowing through the organ until they can be transplanted.

The organ donor is treated with the utmost respect during the donation process. Organs removed in a way that leaves the least possible signs. Organ donation should not interfere with funeral or burial arrangements.

All donated organs are screened for infectious diseases to avoid passing these diseases to another person.

Once an organ is available for transplantation, it is assigned to a recipient using a national system. This system assigns donated organs to individuals who need transplants based on how urgently the organ is needed, how close the tissue and blood type match is and how close the donor is to the recipient.

There is no cost to the donor or his or her family for organ or tissue donation.

Resources For Organ Donation

The following resources may be helpful to persons wishing to become organ donors or to learn more:

  • The Donate Life California Registry and its Spanish language website both offer online organ and tissue donor registration.
  • The California Department of Motor Vehicles allows California residents to sign up online to be an organ donor or change their registry profile.

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