College of American Pathologists
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  Organ Donation Information




Updated June 22, 2007

Why donate?

Make the decision to share the gift of life.  You could help as many as 50 people if you decide to donate your organs and tissues.  Last year, more than 6,000 people in the United States died while waiting for an organ transplant.  That means that every day, 18 people on the national register die as the more than 90,000 people — "adults and children — "wait for an organ transplant.

Who can donate?

You must be in good health.  While there are no age limitations — "everyone from seniors to newborns can donate" — people younger than 18 years of age must have a parent's or a guardian's consent.  A person's physical condition dictates the ability to donate.

What do I have to do before I become an organ donor?

The most important step in becoming an organ donor is sharing your decision with your family.  Organ donation, even if a donor card is signed, cannot occur without the written consent of your next-of-kin.

How else can I express my wishes to become an organ and tissue donor?

Indicate your intent to be an organ and tissue donor on your driver's license and carry an organ donor card.

What organs are needed most?

Organs that are especially needed include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, livers and intestines.  Tissues that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons. Bone marrow may also be donated. Successful transplantation is often enhanced by the matching of organs by pathologists among members of the same ethnic background and racial groups.  

How are organs collected?

Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save a life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. However, bone marrow and other organs, such as one of two kidneys, may be donated from living donors.

If I sign a donor card, will the quality of medical care I receive at the hospital be affected?

No. Every effort is made to save your life before donation is considered — "that is always the number 1 priority.

Will my body appear disfigured after I donate?

Donated organs are removed surgically.  Donation neither disfigures nor interferes with the ability to have an open casket during a funeral.

How are donated organs distributed?

Organs are distributed based on a number of factors that include blood and tissue typing, medical urgency, time on the waiting list, and geographical location. Organs may not be "bought" by hospitals or individuals. The National Organ Transplant Act makes it illegal to sell human organs and tissues to help ensure everyone has equal access to life.

How much does organ donation cost?

There is no cost to the donor.  All costs related to both organs and tissues are paid by the recipient and NOT by the donor's family.

How do I know if I am a "match?"

Pathologists, physicians who treat patients through laboratory medicine, test and type the organs so that these organs can be "matched" and transplanted into a compatible recipient.  Blood and tissue typing, medical urgency, time on the waiting list and geographical location are some of the factors that dictate who receives the donated organs.