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

over 4 years, said...

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over 5 years, said...

My daughters 3rd. kidney tranplant is coming from her cousin(relation thru my partner) not blood relative which is perfectly fine. I donated a kidney to her in 1987 and she developed toxicity( too many immunosuppressant drugs) and ended up back where she started.ESRD(end stadge renal disease) Onto perioneal diaylisis she went and that was rough. After contracting a life threatening infection,(peritonitis) this pushed her up the list and in April of 1991(3 mo. later) she got a cadaver kidney and was able to keep it after a really rough start of rejection episodes. After 4 mo. of anti-rejection(heavy duty meds) treatment, basiclly she won the battle and kept that kidney for 20yrs. Also she did contract Brain Lymohoma All the anti-rejection drugs awoke the Epstein Barr virus)( that by the way we all carry this virus slleeping in us ) and after months of chemo, clinical trials, and ultimately 25 whole head radiation treatments, Completely dibilitated and many complications later, Not only did she live, her" Neurologist/Onocolgist "said "Don't Thank me, your not in remission ,ITS JUST GONE!!!" ???.Now after episodes of chronic rejection(very slow)(YRS)And a deadly run in with H1N1,which finnally polished off the little bit of kidney function she had left, they had to began dialysis at that time(she was in an induced coma and intrubated. WHEW!! (from acute respspiratory distress)( ARDS) After a long recovery in a rehabilitation center, she learned to swallow, oh yes before that breathe, and she looked at me and I knew she was still in there somewhere. She whispered "mom", And had to learn to sit up, everything, like a little child, everything had to be relearned after a 57 days in a coma(propofol_sp_) She fought,with great faith and determination and eventually recoverd. PLEASE GET YOUR FLU SHOTS EVERYONE! ( she had gotten hers but being immunosuppressed, it got her anyway. Jump tp 3yrs.later And many other diagnoisis's later she is Still On dialysis 3X a week, testing for the 3rd transplant they found, .breast cancer, Onto massectomy,sadly this bothched reconstruction nees to be repeated(DAMM)(caught early) thank God and an unrelated skin cancer on her back. Removed also early Thank you God again. Pray her M.R.I. this past Sat. was clear (the brain) and sadly she'll have her last visit with her incredible neurologic/onogologist. as he is retiring,last day Friday Sept.7th, her apt. same day.....sadly we'll say goodbye to him. And I know this goes on and on (sorry) but now I need ti help the ANGEL that is donating to my daughter. Her intake is Thur.the 6th of Sept.And although I gave Heidi a kidney, it was 15yrs.ago and advances have been made!(Sweet thing -her own Mom has passed and she needs me too.)She's nervous, has 2 sons and her husband is not on board with her doing this. She has made up her mind, knowing herself, she said ,not to be morbid but I could never go to your funeral knowing I did nothing to help you, Like I said ANGEL! Sorry so long, I didn't sleep last night trying to find the words to help her with all this, God help us all. Any input anyone. I know I need to keep the faith and try to stay calm for both of these beautiful young women, but I have my moments of weariness. My daughters turning 41 yrs.young this Sept. 22nd &. I say that as shes missed out on so much of her life. Its sad, No husband, or boyfreind. She says God doesn't give you more than you can handle BUT I WISH HE didn't trust me so much! Like I said "GREAT FAITH" ! p.s. I hope you'll tell your next of kin your wishes to be ORGAN DONER'S---You can't take them with you! Save Lives here on earth, PLEASE!