How to Arrange for Organ, Eye, and Tissue Donations

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Arranging organ donations

As medical technology has made transplant operations less expensive, easier, safer, and more effective, tissue and organ donations are in great demand. To find out about individual state requirements and steps to take for donating organs, eyes, and tissues, go to Donate Life America.

The most commonly transplanted organs and tissues

In greatest demand among medical institutions are corneas, hearts, livers, kidneys, intestines, veins, bone and bone marrow, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, pituitary glands, skin, and pancreases.

Age as a factor in organ donation

Acceptable tissues and corneas can be taken from almost any donor, regardless of age, for transplant, research, and study.

However, there are more rigorous requirements for donations of major organs such as hearts, livers, and kidneys. These organs must usually be taken from a donor who is in reasonably good health -- and they must be removed while the donor's heart is kept actively beating. In reality, nearly all such suitable donors are short-term hospital patients who die from traumatic or sudden causes.

Organ donation procedures

Accepting organs and tissues. Before an organ can be removed for donation, two doctors who aren't involved in the transplant operation must declare that a patient is "irretrievably deceased" -- with an ultimate diagnosis of being brain dead. From that time on, the body is usually attached to a respirator to keep blood flowing through the organs.

Once organs have been removed from a body, the rest of the body won't be accepted for medical study. Corneas, however, are an exception -- they may be removed without invalidating a whole-body donation.

Costs of organs and tissues. It's illegal to buy or sell human eyes, organs, and tissues. The costs associated with procuring them are absorbed by the hospital, the institution placing the tissue, or by an organ and tissue donor program rather than by the survivors.

Indicating donation preference

The main method for donating organs is for a person to indicate the preference on a donor card. Once completed and signed, the card identifies the person to medical personnel as a potential donor.

Donor cards are available from:

Consent from next of kin

Even if a person has not signed a card or other document indicating the preference to donate organs, the next of kin can usually approve a donation at death. And even those who have indicated the wish to have organs donated can have those wishes thwarted if relatives object; many medical personnel will not proceed in the midst of strong family objections to the donation procedure. The only real safeguard against this is to clearly communicate, during life, the decision to donate.


Barbara Kate Repa

Barbara Kate Repa, a lawyer and journalist, has devoted her career to editing and writing about legal issues for consumers. See full bio