Organ donation can be a scary subject for people to think about. It’s something that a growing number of people are aware of, and 95% of adults in the United States support it. But the fact is, only 48% are actually signed up to be donors. What about the other 52%?
People have many reasons why they don’t sign up, but it turns out most of those reasons are based on fears or misunderstandings about organ donation. Read the questions and answers below to help clear up some of those misunderstandings.
What can people donate?
When you think of organ donation, it’s interesting to note that doctors can transplant much more than vital organs. Vital organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, and intestines. Other body parts that can be donated include:
- Bone marrow and stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and peripheral blood stem cells.
- Tissue, including the corneas, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissue.
If I’m an organ donor, will healthcare providers still try to save me if I’m in an accident?
The number one priority of every member of a medical team is to save every life—regardless of whether a person is an organ donor or not. Organ donation is not discussed until AFTER a person is officially declared deceased. What’s more, the doctors and nurses involved in a person’s care before death are not part of the transplant team.
Can children be organ donors?
Yes. There is no set age limit for organ donation. Even newborns and senior citizens have been organ donors. However, when a potential donor is under the age of 18, the parent or legal guardian always is required to authorize the donation. Whether a person can donate or not depends entirely on his or her physical condition at the time of death.
My daughter, Greta, received a heart transplant when she was only 8 months old. She had been diagnosed with a type of cardiomyopathy that couldn’t be treated with medicines or other kinds of surgery.
It only took about 3 weeks from the time we found out she needed a transplant to when she received it. That’s a short time frame compared with how long some people have to wait. I learned that many things go into determining wait time. These include medical urgency, time spent on the waiting list, blood type, and other factors. The organ is offered first to the candidate that is the best match. In Greta’s case, she was young and her situation was urgent because she couldn’t even go home on medicines to wait.
Before Greta’s situation, I was registered as an organ donor because I knew it was important, but that was the extent of it. For example, I didn’t know that the need for organs greatly outweighs what is currently available. Greta is almost 10 now and every day I look at her and the life she’s living and thank her donor’s family for giving her a true gift of life. It takes just a moment to register as a donor, so I would encourage everyone to learn more and to get the facts on what organ donation means—it means life for so many.
Michelle—Greta’s mother and Pfizer employee
If I donate my organs, can I still have an open-casket funeral service?
Organ donors can have an open-casket service. Doctors use traditional surgical techniques to retrieve a person’s organs, including carefully closing all incisions.
Do celebrities and wealthy people receive organ donations before other people?
No. A person’s fame and wealth have no bearing on receiving a transplant. A national computer network, maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) matches organs based on height, weight, and blood type, followed by medical urgency, and then by the amount of time a recipient has been on the waiting list.
Isn’t donating organs against certain religions?
Exactly the opposite is true. All major religions consider organ donation to be an individual decision or support it as the final act of love and generosity a person can accomplish.
How can I sign up to be an organ donor?
Signing up to become an organ donor is easy. It takes just a few minutes to complete the form at https://www.organdonor.gov/register.html. You can also sign up at your local motor vehicle department.
- 1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Organ procurement and transplantation network. Accessed March 29, 2017.
- 2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Organ donation statistics. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- 3. American Transplant Foundation. Facts and Myths. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- 4. Pediatric organ donation. Organ Donation and Children. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- 5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Organ donor FAQs. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- 6. United Network for Organ Sharing. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- 7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What can be donated. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- 8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Organ donation myths and facts. Accessed March 29, 2017.