There’s no question that the increasing need for organ donors is a hot-button topic. In the United States alone, there are over 100,000 people waiting for lifesaving organs. Regardless of the urgent need for organs, becoming an organ donor is an important decision that requires careful planning and thought.
This post offers insight into the organ donation process, and highlights some common questions and concerns you might have about organ donation in general.
What Is the Process for Becoming an Organ Donor?
The first step in the process to becoming an organ donor is to register in your state. There are two different types of organ donors: deceased donors and live donors. A live donor actively consents to donate anything from blood to an organ. Deceased donors cannot consent, so you need to take steps in advance to legally outline your healthcare preferences.
Depending on the state, simply being listed as an organ donor in the state registry can be legally binding, which means that family can’t override the registered person’s wishes.
However, in order to avoid a potential lawsuit from the family, some medical professionals will strongly consider the family’s thoughts when making the final decision, even if the person is a registered donor, and even if the state recognizes the legally binding nature of being a registered organ donor. This means it’s possible for your family to override your decision to be a donor, so it’s important that you make your wishes known to them.
If you don’t specify whether you want to be an organ donor or not, or don’t register as an organ donor in your state’s registry, the choice falls to your family or next of kin.
How Can I Make Sure My Family Follows My Wishes?
A good way to make sure that your wishes on organ donation are honored is to create a Health Care Directive. With a Health Care Directive (also called a Living Will) in place, not only do you take the burden of making medical decisions on your behalf away from family, you also ensure that your wishes for a variety of medical situations aside from organ donation, like resuscitation, life support, and life-sustaining treatment if you are terminally ill or injured, are followed.
Creating a Health Care Directive requires that you choose at least two people you trust as your health care proxies, your second choice being an alternate whose authority will only come into effect if your first choice is unable to act. It’s important that you discuss your Health Care Directive with your health care proxy authorities, as they both need to sign the document in order for it to be legally valid.
How Are Organ Donors and Recipients Matched?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, many different factors go into matching donors and recipients, such as:
- Blood type
- Organ size (for example, children’s bodies respond better to receiving child-sized organs)
- Waiting time (since different organs and tissues have different preservation times, the amount of time the organ can be out of the body and still considered usable for transplant differs depending on the organ)
Since this list is not exhaustive, more information can be found by visiting the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network’s website.
How is Organ Donation Paid for?
A common concern for a potential organ donor is if any costs will be incurred during the donation process. For deceased donation, the recipient’s insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid generally covers any costs related to donation.
Donating blood is free at any American blood center. Some employers even offer incentives to donate blood, such as paid time off work. However, medical costs for living organ donors can vary, depending on their medical coverage.
If living donation is a route you want to take, there are various organizations and charities across the country that offer financial assistance for living donors, but the best course of action is to speak with your doctor or visit a transplant center in your area to get the information and resources you need.
Other Common Questions You Can Ask Your Doctor
Since we can’t cover all possible questions, here is a short list of other common questions that people tend to ask their doctor:
- Are doctors less likely to save the life of an organ donor?
- Is a closed casket funeral my only option after organ donation?
- How are the organs recovered?
- Can I control which organs I donate?
- What information will my family receive with regards to my donation?
Medical professionals will expect that you have a variety of questions, and should be ready to answer them accordingly. For further research, the American Transplant Foundation website has a handy list of resources and links.
Deciding to Become an Organ Donor
Choosing whether or not to become an organ donor is a deeply personal choice that requires careful consideration. The most important thing is to become as informed as possible, which means talking to healthcare and medical professionals, talking to religious representatives, considering your personal reasons, and doing research in order to make an educated and informed decision.
Would you be an organ donor?