Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to the top ten most frequently asked questions about organ and tissue donation.
How can I register to become an organ donor?
You can convey your wish to donate by designating that you want the words “Organ Donor” to appear on your driver’s license or state ID card.
Does it cost anything to donate tissues and organs?
There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for organ and/or tissue donation.
How do I discuss organ and tissue donation with my family?
Explain to your loved ones how your decision to donate at the time of your death will offer hope to others whose lives can be saved or enhanced through transplantation.
Gift of Life also has materials to help explain organ and tissue donation and why it’s important. Order Gift of Life brochure.
Is there an age limit for donating organs?
There is no age limit for organ donation. Even people in their 80s and 90s have successfully donated organs and tissues.
Can I sell my organs?
No. It is illegal to buy or sell organs and tissues in the U.S.
Does my religion approve of donation?
All major religions approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity. If you have questions, contact your religious advisor. Learn more about religious perspectives on organ and tissue donation.
Can I be an organ and tissue donor and also donate my body to medical science?
Most people can donate their body to science, however there are some circumstances that may exclude your donation for medical research.
Gift of Life Donor Program works closely with Humanity Gifts Registry to ensure those who want to be an organ, eye and tissue donor and also donate their body for medical research can do so. If you have questions, please contact Human Gifts Registry at 215-922-4440.
What organs and tissues can I donate?
Life-saving organs for transplant include the heart, kidney, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissues that can be donated include bones, ligaments, tendons, fascia, veins and nerves. Corneas, heart valves and skin may also be donated. Vascularized Composite Allografts (VCA) transplants including hand and face transplants have become available in recent years for people who have suffered a devastating injury.
Who can become a donor?
Almost anyone can become a donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.
Can I donate organs to a friend or loved one awaiting a transplant?
Yes. When you specify who is to receive your donated organ or organs you are participating in what’s called directed or designated donation. This can be done for both deceased donors and living donors. If your organ is not compatible with the designated recipient, a paired exchange could be possible.
How are recipients matched to donors?
Individuals waiting for transplants are listed by the transplant center in their area. Their name goes into a national waiting list maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
UNOS manages the national list to match donor organs with patients on the top of the waiting list. When donor organs become available, the organ procurement organization (OPO) such as Gift of Life provides UNOS with information about the medical characteristics of the donor and any transplantable organs. Waiting list patients in the OPO’s local region are given the first opportunity for the organs. If no one is a match there, the organs are offered to the region, and then nationally, if necessary.
What are the steps involved in organ and tissue donation?
You can learn about the steps of organ and tissue donation by reading How Does Organ Donation Work?
What medical conditions exclude a person from donating organs?
Only actively spreading cancer normally excludes a person from donating organs. Otherwise, the transplant team will determine what organs can be used at the time of death.
Historically, HIV would exclude one from organ donation, however, The HOPE Act, passed in 2013, allows certified transplant centers to transplant organs from an HIV + donor into HIV + recipients. In addition, transplants between donors and potential recipients with Hepatitis are also currently being performed. Ongoing advances with transplantation has increased the donor pool and allowed for more lives to be saved.
Who is responsible for the cost of the transplant surgery?
Most transplant surgeries are covered by the recipient’s individual health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Patients should contact their physicians or health insurance company for more information.
Why are there so many people on the transplant waiting list?
As advances in medicine increase, transplants become more successful and more people are added to the national waiting list. Unfortunately, the numbers of donors does not grow as quickly as the number of people who need organs and tissue.
Each day, 20 people in the United States die while waiting for organ transplants. Currently, more than 115,000 patients are waiting for a transplant in the United States. Thousands more await life enhancing tissue transplants.
Why should minorities be particularly concerned about donation?
People from minority communities make up more than half (58%) of those awaiting transplants in this region and throughout the country.
Although the matching and allocation of organs to patients waiting is based on medical criteria, and excludes race, the possibility for successful transplantation may be improved by matching organs between members of the same ethnic and racial group.
Will donation change the appearance of my body?
Donation does not disfigure the body or interfere with open casket funeral arrangements. The OPO also works with the funeral home to make sure the donor’s burial wishes are supported.
Will my decision to become an organ and tissue donor affect the quality of my medical care?
No. Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life are exhausted and death is declared. The doctors working to save your life are entirely separate from the medical team involved in recovering organs and tissues.