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Organ Donation

Organ Donation

Alternate Names

  • "the gift of life"


Organs such as the kidneys, lungs, pancreas, and liver can be transplanted from one person at the time of his or her death into another person who is in need of a new organ. Organ donation can give one or more other persons a second chance at life. (This article will not discuss kidney, bone marrow, or other organ donations made by living persons.)

What is the information for this topic?

Organ donors are people in good health who have died or have been declared brain dead. Most organ donors are victims of trauma that has caused a fatal head injury, such as a car crashes or a gunshot wound. The organs can be preserved only a short period of time, usually several hours, before being transplanted into the recipient, the person in need of the new organ.
Usually many organs are removed from the brain dead donor. There may be 2 or 3 teams of surgeons who operate on the donor at the same time. After the organs are removed, they are packed for transport to the recipient. The deceased donor's chest and abdomen are then sewn up and normal preparations for a funeral take place.
Organs that can be transplanted include:
  • the heart
  • the lungs
  • kidneys
  • pancreas
  • liver
  • intestines
Tissues and other structures can be donated as well. These include:
  • the cornea, the transparent coating that covers the front of the eye
  • skin
  • bone marrow
  • heart valves
  • muscle
  • cartilage
Persons who want to donate organs after they die can sign a card to indicate their wishes. This can be done when they renew their driver's license or by filling out a donor card. Several donor organizations provide these cards.
Family members should be told about a person's wishes so that they know ahead of time. Families are usually asked to allow the donation, and their decision is easier if they know that the person wanted to donate organs. Many families are comforted by the fact that their loss can help give someone else a new life.
A person with cancer or an infection in the blood known as sepsis is not eligible to be an organ donor. Anyone who has HIV or whose behavior places them at risk for HIV is also not be allowed to donate organs. Other rules for donors exist, depending on the organ being donated. These will be handled at the time of death.
An organ donor has to be declared brain dead before organ donation is considered. In order to do this, a healthcare professional must determine that the brain has permanently lost its ability to function, that is, that without medications and a ventilator, death will occur quickly.
Some other facts about organ donation include:
  • An open casket is still possible after organ donation because the donor's body is not disfigured.
  • There is no cost to the family of the donor.
  • All major religions support organ donation.
  • A person who has signed a donor card will receive the same medical care as one who has not. Some people worry that if the hospital knows they are potential organ donors, the staff will not do everything appropriate to save them.
  • Organ donation is not experimental. Success rates for organ donation are as high as 95%. Transplants have been done since the 1950s.
  • Donors range in age from newborns to senior citizens.
  • Information about the donor is given only to the person receiving the organ and only if the donor's family allows it.
Organ donation can extend and enhance lives. Medical advances continue to make organ transplants safer and more effective. Unfortunately, the number of organs donated has not increased at the same pace.
In the US each day roughly 75 people receive an organ transplant. However, many people die waiting for a donated organ. There are over 94,000 people in the US waiting for organs. Most Americans approve of organ donation, but too few give this gift of life to others. An increase in the number of persons willing to donate is urgently needed.


"Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative" [hyperLink url="http://organ donor/gov/faq.html" linkTitle="organ donor/gov/faq.html"]organ donor/gov/faq.html[/hyperLink]

"Organ Donation: Get the Facts" [hyperLink url="" linkTitle=""][/hyperLink]

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, Home edition, 1997

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