College of American Pathologists
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  Organ and Tissue Procurement


Updated March 14, 2011


The science of organ and tissue transplantation continues to advance; however, the need for organs and tissues is much greater than the availability. People die every day waiting for organs and tissues. The pathologist plays a key role in the recovery of organs and tissues, and the majority of potential donors’ deaths are under the jurisdiction of a pathologist. Unfortunately, many potential donor cases are denied because they are considered forensic, or medicolegal. It is the responsibility of the pathologist to serve the victim/patient, but also to serve in the best interest of the public. Recovery should not be denied on the sole basis that a case is considered a forensic/medicolegal case.

The College also believes that respect for the rights of the donor requires that informed consent be obtained before a biospecimen is donated, as outlined in the College’s Informed Consent for Donation of Biospecimens policy. The specific elements that should be covered in the informed consent process will depend on the context in which the donation is made, the use to which the biospecimen is put, and applicable state law.


The College of American Pathologists supports the recovery of organs and tissues for transplantation. Such recovery should be sought in all applicable deaths including those under medicolegal jurisdiction, and when it can be accomplished without detriment to the autopsy procedure, evidence collection, or determination of cause and manner of death.

Information Highlights

  • Although there have been advances in medical technology and donation, the demand for organ, eye and tissue donation still vastly exceeds the number of donors.
  • An average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant.i
  • More than 107,000 men, women, and children are currently waiting for organ transplants.ii
  • In 2009, there were 8,021 deceased organ donors and 6,610 living organ donors, resulting in 28,465 organ transplants.iii
  • Ninety percent of Americans say they support organ donation.iv
  • The average waiting time for organs is 230-1,100 days.
  • Approximately 77 people receive an organ transplant each day in the U.S.
  • A tissue donor can enhance the lives of up to 50 people through donation.v
  • The most important step in becoming an organ donor is sharing your decision with your family. Organ donation, even if a donor card or driver’s license is signed, cannot occur without the consent of your next-of-kin.
  • Organs that are especially needed include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Infant donors are in particularly short supply. Other tissues that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves, cornea and tendons.
  • There is no cost to the donor or their family for organ and tissue donation.
  • Most whole organ donations from deceased patients require that the patient still have a beating heart but be declared brain-dead. Tissue donation, however, can occur up to 24 hours after the donor’s heart has stopped beating.
  • For those organs that prove not suitable or appropriate for transplantation, research on these tissues may help provide valuable medical breakthroughs in the future.
  • Pathologists, physicians who study organs, tissues and cells to diagnose and treat disease, know that you can help as many as 50 people if you decide to donate your organs and tissues.


  2. Hauben DJ, Baruchin A, Mahler A. On the history of the free skin graft. Ann Plast Surg. Sep 1982;9(3):242-5.
  3. Karamehic J, Masic I, Skrbo A, Drace Z, Delic-Sarac M, Subasic D. Transplantation of organs: one of the greatest achievements in history of medicine. Med Arh 2008;62(5-6):307-10.
  14. Goldstein B, Shafer T, Greer D, et al. Medical examiner/coroner denial for organ donation in brain-dead victims of child abuse: controversies and solutions. Clin Intensive Care 1997;8:136-141.
  15. Pinckard JK, Wetli CV, Graham MA. National Association of Medical Examiners position paper on the medical examiner release of organs and tissues for transplantation. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 2007;28:202-207.
  16. Pinckard JK and Graham MA, “Heart valve tissue donation does not preclude the diagnosis of clinically significant pediatric cardiac abnormalities,” Am J Forensic Med Pathol, 2003: 24:248-253.
  17. – Informed Consent for Donation of Biospecimens policy