Organ donation: Don't let these myths confuse you
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ transplant.
Sadly, many may never get the call saying that a donor organ has been found. Many may not get that second chance at life. Every day in the U.S., about 17 people die because there aren't enough donor organs for all who wait for a transplant.
It can be hard to think about dying. It can be even harder to think about donating organs and tissue. But organ donors save lives.
Here are answers to some common organ donation myths and concerns.
Myth: If I agree to donate my organs, the hospital staff won't work as hard to save my life.
Fact: When you go to the hospital for treatment, the health care team tries to save your life, not someone else's. You get the best care you can get.
Myth: Maybe I won't really be dead when they sign my death certificate.
Fact: This is a popular topic in tabloids. But in reality, people don't start to wiggle their toes after a health care provider says they're dead. In fact, people who have agreed to organ donation are given more tests to make sure they're dead than are those who aren't donating organs. These tests are done at no charge to their families.
Myth: Organ donation is against my faith.
Fact: Most major faiths accept organ donation. These include Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant faiths. Some religions believe organ donation to be an act of charity. If you don't know where your faith stands on organ donation, ask a member of your clergy.
Myth: I'm younger than 18. I'm too young to make this decision.
Fact: Many states let people younger than 18 register as organ donors. But if you die before your 18th birthday, your parents or legal guardian will make the decision. If you want to be an organ donor, make sure your family is OK with your wishes. Remember, children, too, need organ transplants. They often need organs smaller than adult size.
Myth: People who donate organs or tissues can't have an open-casket funeral.
Fact: Donors' bodies are treated with care and respect. And they're dressed for burial. No one can see that they donated organs or tissues.
Myth: I'm too old to donate. Nobody wants my organs.
Fact: There's no standard cutoff age for donating organs. The decision to use your organs is based on the health of your organs, not age. Let the health care team decide at the time of your death whether your organs and tissues can be transplanted.
Myth: I'm not in the best health. Nobody wants my organs or tissues.
Fact: Very few medical conditions keep you from donating organs. Maybe you can't donate some organs, but other organs and tissues are fine. Again, let the health care team decide at the time of your death whether your organs and tissues can be transplanted.
Myth: I'd like to donate one of my kidneys now. Can I do that if it's not going to a family member?
Fact: Yes. Most living donations are between family members and friends. But you can choose to donate a kidney to a stranger, so long as you're a match. You also can donate other organs and tissues, such as a lung or part of a lung or liver.
If you decide to become a living donor, the health care team at the transplant center asks a lot of questions. They want to make sure you know the risks.
You'll have tests to make sure you're healthy and that the organ you want to donate is in good shape. The health care team also will want to be as sure as possible that the donation won't damage your health.
Myth: Rich and famous people go to the top of the list when they need a donor organ.
Fact: The rich and famous are treated the same as everyone else when it comes to organ donation. True, famous people might get a lot of press after a transplant. But who they are and how much money they have don't help them get an organ. A computer system and strict standards ensure fairness.
Myth: My family will be charged if I donate my organs.
Fact: The organ donor's family never pays for donation. The donor family pays for all the medical care given to save your life before your organs are donated. Sometimes families think those costs are for the organ donation. But the person who gets the organs for transplant pays the costs for removing the organs.
Why you should think about donating organs
Now that you have the facts, you can see that being an organ donor can have a big impact. And your donation helps not just the person getting the organ. By donating your organs and tissue after you die, you can save up to eight lives and improve 75 more. Many families say that knowing their loved one helped others helped them cope with their loss.
Think about being an organ donor if you belong to an ethnic minority group. These include Black Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Hispanics. People in these groups are more likely than white people to have certain illnesses that affect the kidneys, heart, lung, pancreas and liver.
Some blood types are more common among minority groups. The blood type of the donor usually needs to match the blood type of the person getting an organ. So the need for minority donor organs is high.
How to donate
Becoming an organ donor is easy. Just do the following:
- Sign up with your state's donor registry. Most states have ways to sign up. Check the list at organdonor.gov.
- Mark your choice on your driver's license. Do this when you get or renew your license.
- Tell your family. Make sure your family knows you want to be an organ donor.
Being on your state's organ donation registry and marking your choice on your driver's license or state ID are the best ways to make sure you become a donor. But telling your family also is important because hospitals ask next of kin before taking organs.
However, hospitals don't need to ask for consent if you are 18 or older and are on your state's donor registry or have marked your driver's license or state ID card for organ donation.
If you have named someone to decide about your health care for you if you are not able to do so, make sure that person knows that you want to be an organ donor. You also can include your wishes in a living will if you have one. But the will might not be read right at the time of your death.
Last Updated May 4, 2023