ORGAN DONATIONS - TO GIVE OR NOT TO GIVE
Medical advances have made it possible
to transplant a number of tissues and organs from one human being
into another to improve and save lives. The first corneal transplant
was performed in 1905, the first blood transfusion in 1918, the
first kidney transplant in 1954, and the first heart transplant
in 1968. Today, medical technology also enables the transplantation
of skin, heart-lung combinations, lung, pancreas, liver, bone,
and bone marrow.
Every month, dozens of Americans die simply
because there are no organs available - and organ waiting lists
increase dramatically each year. The Health Resources and Services
Administration (HRSA), through its Division of Transplantation,
is meeting the challenge of increasing awareness of the need for
You can help save the lives of those who
desperately need an organ transplant. According to the Uniform
Anatomical Gift Act, effective in all 50 states, anyone over the
age of 18 can indicate his/her desire to be an organ donor by
signing a donor card or indicating on their driver's license their
intent to donate. For more information about donor cards, call
1-800-355-SHARE. Certain organs, including the kidney, liver,
and parts of the lung and pancreas, can be transplanted from living
donors. It is most important to tell your family and your physician
that, in the event of your death, you want to become a donor.
Encourage family and friends to be organ donors as well. Donor
families are not charged for expenses associated with donating
a loved one's organs.
As part of the National Organ Transplant
Act of 1984, Congress authorized the Organ Procurement and
Transplantation Network and the Scientific Registry. The
latter is a system and database designed to follow all transplant
recipients in the United States from the time of transplant until
failure of the graft (organ) or death of the patient. The Network
operates a nationwide, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week computer system
that matches organ donors and recipients, ensuring equal access
to organs by critically-ill patients in need. HRSA administers
Did you know?
- More than 54,000 patients are waiting
for an organ transplant. While approximately 2,000 new patients
are added to the waiting list each month, 1,000 patients are removed
due to transplantation or various medical reasons.
- From January 1, 1992, to October 1996,
there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of persons
waiting for a kidney transplant, a 64 percent increase in the
number awaiting a heart transplant, and a 329 percent increase
in the number waiting for a liver transplant.
- In 1996, an average of 9 people a day
or about 3,800 individuals on the national waiting list for transplants
died while waiting for an organ to become available for them.
These deaths could have been avoided if there were a sufficient
supply of donor organs.
- In 1996, 30 percent of kidney donors
were live donors.
- Most States have laws which require
that family members be given the option to donate a deceased loved
one's organs and tissues for transplantation.
- All costs related to the donation of
organs and tissues are paid by the donor program; however, the
cost of funeral arrangements remains the responsibility of the
- There were 5,400 donors in the United
States in 1996.
- Organ transplant recipients are selected
on the basis of urgency of need and compatibility of body size
and blood chemistries, not race, sex, or creed.
- The average 1-year survival rate for
a heart recipient is 82.3 percent and for a liver recipient, 81.6
- Before 1980, fewer than 100 heart transplants
were performed annually. In 1996, 2,342 were performed.
- Signing a donor card is important,
but you also must inform your family of your desire to be an organ
and tissue donor. Physicians will ask for your family's consent
at the time of your death.
Based on information from various sources,
answers to some frequent questions follow:
Q: Does my religion support organ and
A: Organ and tissue donation is consistent
with the beliefs of all major religions. If you have any questions,
please discuss them with your rabbi, priest, or minister.
Q: What organs and tissues can be donated?
A: One person's gift can benefit several
people. The majority of needed organs are donated by individuals
at the time of death. Needed organs include corneas, middle ears,
blood vessels, kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs, and pancreases.
Tissue donations include eyes, skin, heart valves, bone marrow,
and bone. In certain circumstances, kidney or bone marrow are
donated by "live" donors, with no detrimental effects
to the donor's remaining life.
Q: If I decide to become an organ donor,
will that affect the level of my medical care?
A: Absolutely not. For someone to be
eligible for organ donation, they must be declared "brain
dead." The determination of brain death is made based on
strict medical and legal standards. This determination must be
made by a physician who is NOT involved with organ donation or
transplantation. Organ recovery takes place only after every
effort has been exhausted to save the life of the patient.
Q: What is brain death?
A: The brain has stopped functioning and
artificial life support systems are used to maintain heartbeat
and breathing. If these support systems are removed, all vital
body functions stop. Brain death is irreversible, and is an accepted
medical, ethical, and legal principle.
Q: Do I need to mention organ/tissue
donation in my will?
A: No. Your will may be read too late
to make organ and tissue donation possible.
Q: What is "Required Request"
or "Routine Inquiry?"
A: It is a policy by which hospitals must
provide the opportunity for organ and tissue donation to next-of-kin
when a family member has died. The laws also allow a family to
exercise its right to be asked about organ donation.
Q: Can my family refuse permission
for organ and tissue donation even though I have already agreed (annotated
driver's license or a donor card)?
A: Yes, they can, but usually they respect
the wishes of the deceased. It is important to remember that
the medical team treating the potential donor is also treating
the family in its grief. Part of the medical team's role in giving
care is respecting the feelings of those who are grieving. Ethically
and morally, the medical team will do only those things that the
Q: Can anyone designate their organs
A: Everyone should consider himself/herself
as a potential organ donor, regardless of age or medical history.
Individuals under the age of 18 may donate with the consent of
their parent or guardian.