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Frequently Asked Questions

Who can become a donor?
All individuals can indicate their intent to donate (persons under 18 years of age must have parent's or guardian's consent). Medical suitability for donation is determined at the time of death.

Are there age limits for donors?
There are no age limitations on who can donate. The deciding factor on whether a person can donate is the person’s physical condition, not the person’s age. Newborns as well as senior citizens have been organ donors. Persons younger than 18 years of age must have a parent's or guardian's consent.

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

  1. Indicate your intent to be an organ and tissue donor on your driver’s license. 
  2. Carry an organ donor card.
  3. Most important, discuss your decision with family members and loved ones.

If I sign a donor card or indicate my donation preferences on my driver’s license, will my wishes be carried out?
Even if you sign a donor card it is essential that your family know your wishes. Your family may be asked to sign a consent form in order for your donation to occur.

If you wish to learn how organ donation preferences are documented and honored where you live, contact your local organ procurement organization (OPO).  The OPO can advise you of specific local procedures, such as joining donor registries, that are available to residents in your area.

What can be donated?

If I sign a donor card, will it affect the quality of medical care I receive at the hospital?
No! Every effort is made to save your life before donation is considered.

Will donation disfigure my body? Can there be an open casket funeral?
Donation does not disfigure the body and does not interfere with having a funeral, including open casket services.

Why should minorities be particularly concerned about organ donation?

  1. The need for transplants is unusually high among some ethnic minorities. Some diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas, and liver that can lead to organ failure are found more frequently in ethnic minority populations than in the general population. For example, Native Americans are four times more likely than Whites to suffer from diabetes. African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics are three times more likely than Whites to suffer from kidney disease. Many African Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension) which can lead to kidney failure. Some of these diseases are best treated through through transplantation; others can only be treated through transplantation.
  2. The rate of organ donation in minority communities does not keep pace with the number needing transplants. Although minorities donate in proportion to their share of the population, their need for transplants is much greater. African Americans, for example, are about 13 percent of the population, about 12 percent of donors, and about 23 percent of the kidney waiting list.
  3. Matching donor organs to potential recipients requires genetic similarity. Generally, people are genetically more similar to people of their own ethnicity or race than to people of other races. Therefore, matches are more likely and more timely when donors and potential recipients are members of the same ethnic background.
  4. Minority patients may have to wait longer for matched kidneys and therefore may be sicker at the time of transplant or die waiting. With more donated organs from minorities, finding a match will be quicker and the waiting time will be reduced.
    More information on Minorities and Organ Donation and Transplantation:

Are there any costs to my family for donation?
The donor’s family does not pay for the cost of the organ donation. All costs related to donation of organs and tissues are paid by the recipient, usually through insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.

Can I sell my organs?
No! The National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507) makes it ILLEGAL to sell human organs and tissues. Violators are subject to fines and imprisonment. Among the reasons for this rule is the concern of Congress that buying and selling of organs might lead to inequitable access to donor organs with the wealthy having an unfair advantage.

How are organs distributed?
Patients are matched to organs based on a number of factors including blood and tissue typing, medical urgency, time on the waiting list, and geographical location.

How many people are currently waiting for each organ to become available so they can have a transplant?
The number of people requiring a life-saving transplant continues to rise faster than the number of available donors. Approximately 300 new transplant candidates are added to the waiting list each month. For the number of patients now on the waiting list and other data, please go to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Web site.

Can I be an organ and tissue donor and also donate my body to medical science?
Total body donation is an option, but not if you choose to be an organ and tissue donor. If you wish to donate your entire body, you should directly contact the facility of your choice to make arrangements. Medical schools, research facilities and other agencies need to study bodies to gain greater understanding of disease mechanisms in humans. This research is vital to saving and improving lives.

Can non-resident aliens donate and receive organs?
Non-resident aliens can both donate and receive organs in the United States. During 2002 and 2003, 513 of the 26,090 organ donors were non-resident aliens, or less than two per cent. Policies developed by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) allow up to 5% of recipients at a transplant center to be from other countries. From 1995 to 2002, non-resident aliens accounted for only about one per cent of more than 20,000 transplants performed annually. Organ allocation is based on the principles of equity and medical utility with the concept of justice applied to both access (consideration) as well as allocation (distribution).

If I have a previous medical condition, can I still donate?
Regardless of any pre-existing medical circumstances or conditions, determination of suitability to donate organs or tissue may be based on a combination of factors that take into account the donor's general health and the urgency of need of the recipient. This determination is usually done by the medical staff that recovers the organs or by the transplant team that reviews all of the data about the organ(s) or tissue that have been recovered from the donor.

We recommend that all individuals consider themselves potential organ and tissue donors, indicate their intent to donate by signing a donor card, and discuss their decision with family members. Transplant professionals will evaluate potential donors and determine suitability for donation of particular organs or tissue when the time for donation arises.

Information from:
Organ -- Donate Life

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