Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about organ and tissue donation.
What is the need for organ donors?
What organs and tissues can I donate?
How do I enroll in the New York Donate Life Registry?
Does my religion approve of donation?
How do I discuss organ and tissue donation with my family?
How is brain death determined?
What is living donation and can I donate an organ while I’m alive?
Can I change my mind after I’ve signed a donor card or driver’s license?
Is there an age limit for donating organs?
Will the medical or nursing care be changed because of my decision to be a donor?
Why should minorities be particularly concerned about donation?
What will happen to my donated organs and tissues?
Can I donate organs to a friend or loved one awaiting a transplant?
Does it cost anything to donate organs and tissues?
Will organ and tissue donation change the appearance of my body?
Will the identity of the recipients be revealed to the donor family?
Q: What is the need for organ donors?
In America there are more than 123,000 men, women, and children in need of an organ transplant. In fact, every 30 minutes someone is added to the waiting list.
The average number of people who die each year before they can receive a lifesaving organ transplant is nearly 11,000 – or 30 people every day. That is the equivalent of 22 jumbo jets crashing every year with no survivors. [This data includes more than 6,000 who die while on the national transplant waiting list, or 18 people a day plus more than 4,000 people who are removed from the waiting list every year due to being “too sick to transplant.”]
In New York State there are approximately 10,500 patients awaiting organ transplants. In the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network region, an average of 650 people await organ transplants.
Q: Who can donate?
Virtually anyone can become a donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated can be donated for transplant or scientific research.
Q: What organs and tissues can I donate?
One organ donor can save up to eight lives. One eye and tissue donor can save or improve the lives of up to 50 people. This means an organ, eye and tissue donor can potentially impact the lives of 58 people!
Organs that can be donated for transplantation include kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, small bowel and pancreas.
Tissues that can be donated include eyes, heart valves, bone, skin, veins and tendons. See the “Interactive Body.”
Q: How do I enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry?
If you are age 18 or older, you can enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry. You can do so online, at the New York DMV, and by mailing in your registration form.
Next, inform your family and others close to you that you’ve made the decision.
You can also add the words “Organ Donor” to your driver’s license and complete a living will or health care proxy.
Next time you register to vote, you will also have the opportunity to enroll in the New York organ donor registry.
Consult this Donor Registry Q&A.
Q: Does my religion approve of donation?
All of the major religions in this country approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it a gift – an act of charity. If you have questions, contact your religious adviser.
See Religion and Organ Donation page for more details.
Q: What is meant by brain death?
Brain death occurs in patients who have suffered a severe injury to the brain as a result of trauma or some other medical cause. As a result of the injury the brain swells and obstructs it’s own blood supply. Without blood flow, all brain tissue dies.
Artificial support systems may maintain functions such as heartbeat and breathing for a few days, but not permanently.
Brain death is an established medical and legal diagnosis of death. Brain death is the most common circumstance under which patients donate organs, because while they have been declared dead the mechanical support has maintained blood flow to the organs. This occurs only in the hospital, typically in an intensive care setting.
How is brain death determined?
Doctors examining the patient will conduct a battery of tests to determine whether any brain activity is present. If all brain activity is absent, the patient is dead. The protocol to be declared brain dead is the same whether a person is an organ donor or not.
Link for more information on brain death.
Q. What is living donation and can I donate a kidney or other organs while I’m alive?
It is becoming more common to donate organs and partial organs while living. Kidneys are the most common organs donated by living donors.
Other organs that can be donated by a living donor include a lobe of a lung, partial liver, pancreas or intestine.
For complete information on Living Donation, visit Donate Life America, the nonprofit that manages and promotes the national brand for donation, and Transplant Living, which is a service of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
Q: Will the medical or nursing care be changed because of my decision to be a donor?
No. The quality of you care will not change, regardless of your decision. Organ and tissue recovery takes place after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been declared. The doctors involved in saving your life are entirely different from the medical team involved in recovering organs and tissues.
VIDEO: The quality of care will be the same whether or not you are a donor.
Q: Can I change my mind after I’ve registered to be a donor?
Yes. Inform your family that you have changed your mind. If you need to make changes to your information or you decide you do not want to become an organ, tissue and eye donor and you want your name taken off the Donate Life Registry, write to: New York State Donate Life Registry, New York State Department of Health, 875 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12206.
Q: Can I sell my organs?
No. The buying and selling of organs is illegal as part of the National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507)
Q: Is there an age limit for donating organs?
No set age limit exists for organ donation. At the time of death, the potential donor’s organs are evaluated to determine their suitability for donation.
Individuals in their 80s and 90s have successfully donated organs including liver and kidneys to save the lives of others.
You must be 18 years of age to register through the state’s Donate life Registry.
People of any age wishing to become organ and tissue donors should inform their families that they wish to donate.
Q: How do I discuss organ and tissue donation with my family?
Explain to your loved ones how your decision to donate at the time of your death will offer hope to others whose lives can be saved or enhanced through transplantation.
Q: Why should minorities be particularly concerned about donation?
A growing number of minorities are awaiting transplants throughout the United States. Certain diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, liver and pancreas are prevalent in minority communities. Many of these diseases may be treated through transplantation.
While the distribution of organs to patients waiting is based on medical matching criteria, excluding a person’ s race, successful transplantation often is enhanced by the matching of organs between members of the same ethnic and racial group.
Q: What will happen to my donated organs and tissues?
A national system ensures the fair distribution of organs in the United States managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing, which is overseen by the Federal Government. The patients who will receive your organs will be identified based upon such factors as blood type, length of time on the waiting list, severity of illness and other medical criteria.
Factors not considered when matching donors with recipients include race, gender and ability to pay.
Q: Can I donate organs to a friend or loved one awaiting a transplant?
National organ allocation guidelines allow families of donors to designate recipients, usually family members or friends. Directed or designated donation as it is commonly called, is an option.
Q: Does it cost anything to donate organs and tissues?
No, all costs related to the donation will be paid by Fingers Lakes Donor Recovery Network. Donation costs nothing to the donor family or his/her estate.
Q: Will organ and tissue donation change the appearance of my body?
No, donation does not disfigure the body or interfere with funeral arrangements. It is still possible to have an open casket funeral.
Q: Will the identity of the recipients be revealed to the donor family?
No, the identity of both the donor and recipient must remain confidential by law. Basic information is provided to both recipients and donor families after the transplant. If they wish to communicate, it is done anonymously through the recovery program and transplant center.
Some families opt to meet, but both parties have to be in agreement to this.
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