Questions and Myths
If I’m registered as an Organ Donor will it change the care I receive as a patient?
Your life always comes first. Doctors and nurses in an Emergency Room have a single mission: TO SAVE YOUR LIFE, not someone else’s. They don’t know – and would never ask – whether you had registered to be an Organ Donor. Saving your life is their FIRST PRIORITY but sometimes there is a complete and irreversible loss of brain function. The patient is declared clinically and legally dead. Only then is donation an option.
What is the difference between being brain-dead and in a coma?
Brain death is irreversible. In the case of a coma, there is a chance of recovery. Brain death occurs when a person has an irreversible catastrophic brain injury, which causes total cessation of all brain function.
Laws strictly prohibit doctors who have declared a patient brain dead from participating in the recovery and transplantation of donated organs. The protocol to be declared brain dead is the same whether a person is an organ donor or not.
Until organs are recovered for transplant, mechanical support (a ventilator) continues to supply oxygen to the organs. The machine is not keeping the Patient “ALIVE” (brain death is irreversible); it is merely keeping the organs viable until they can be recovered. The use of the phrase “life support” does NOT, therefore, apply to brain death. “Life support” may only be appropriate when there is a chance of recovery, for example, in the case of coma.
More info on brain death:
How do I know I can be an Organ Donor?
You are a potential Donor, no matter your age or medical history. Never rule yourself out. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine whether you can be an Organ or Tissue Donor. Even with cancer, diabetes or hypertension, certain organs may not be transplantable but others may help save lives. You should enroll to be an Organ Donor.
Does it cost anything for me to be an Organ Donor?
No. There is no cost to the Donor, the family or the estate of an Organ Donor. As would occur in situations not involving Organ Donation, your family or insurance company pays for medical costs up to the point of death and costs associated with funeral arrangements remain the family’s responsibility.
What kind of organs and tissues can be donated?
Organs and tissue that can be donated include the following: heart, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, corneas, skin, tendons, bone, nerve and heart valves.
How long do organs last before they can no longer be transplanted?
Donated organs require special methods of preservation to keep them viable between the time of procurement and transplantation. Current maximum organ preservation times are the following:
Heart: 4-6 hours
Lung: 4-6 hours
Liver: 8-12 hours
Pancreas: 12-18 hours
Kidney: 24-36 hours
Explore the Interactive Body
Explore the illustrated, interactive body to learn about the organs and tissues that can be transplanted.
Can organs be bought or sold in the United States?
No. Anyone found guilty of black market crimes will be rigorously prosecuted to the full extent of the law. In fact, unauthorized removal of organs under any circumstances is illegal.
Is my religion OK with me being an Organ Donor?
All major religions support Organ Donation and consider it a final act of love and compassion and one of the noblest acts of charity.
What about my privacy as an Organ Donor?
Your privacy will be maintained unless you or your family stipulate otherwise.
Will the identity of the recipients be revealed to the donor family?
No, the identity of both the donor and recipient must remain confidential by law. Basic information is provided to both recipients and donor families after the transplant. If they wish to communicate, it is done anonymously through the recovery program and transplant center. Some families opt to meet, but both parties have to be in agreement to this.
Should I tell my family that I want to be an Organ Donor?
Yes. It is important for your family to understand your wishes. Share with them your decision to be an Organ Donor so they can be supportive when the time comes.
What about my funeral plans if I’m an Organ Donor?
An open-casket funeral is possible and funeral plans should not change after donation. Through the entire process the body is treated with care, dignity and respect. As in any surgical procedure, organs are removed in a meticulously controlled operating room environment.
If I ever need an organ will I get one sooner if I’m rich or famous?
No. A national computer system matches available organs from the donor with the pool of people on the waiting list based on blood type, body size, how sick they are, donor distance, tissue type and time on the waiting list. Race, income, gender, celebrity and social status are not considered.
At what age am I too old to become an Organ Donor?
No one is too old to become an Organ Donor. Organs have been donated and transplanted from Americans in their 90s. A woman in Scotland was 107 years old when she became an Organ Donor.
In order to be on the Organ Waiting List, do I need to be an organ donor?
Do I need to have insurance to receive an organ transplant?