What You Need to Know About Becoming an Organ Donor

No one wants to think about what might happen after you die. It's especially uncomfortable to think about donating your organs after death, particularly if you're in good health. But the fact is that accidents happen and tragedy can strike at any moment. Every person is a potential organ donor, and becoming an organ donor gives you the chance to give the gift of life and live on as your organs save the lives of others.

As you get a new driver's license or update your information, you may notice that you have the option to register with your state as an organ donor. This decision is more than just a sticker for your license. It's a choice that can make a life saving difference for patients waiting on the organ donor list, many of whom die every year due to a shortage of available donor organs.

One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight recipients. And while 95 percent of Americans believe in organ donation, only 52 percent are actually registered to donate organs after death. Often, what's lacking in organ donor registration is information -- which you'll find in our extensive guide.

In our guide, you'll learn about organ donation, including eye opening statistics, myths and facts about organ donation, pros and cons of donating organs and tissue, as well as the organs that are currently needed in the United States right now. Plus, you can find additional resources and information for becoming an organ donor and learning more about organ and tissue donation.

Organ Donation Statistics

Organ and tissue donation is an incredible gift that can save lives and improve the health of others. Learn about the impact organ donation can have in these interesting statistics.

  • Just one organ donor can save up to eight lives. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • One tissue donor can improve the lives of more than 50 people. (LifeCenter)
  • 95 percent of Americans are in favor of organ donation, but only 52 percent are registered. (Donate Life America)
  • More than one million people benefit from tissue transplants each year. (LifeCenter)
  • More than 120 million people in the United States are currently signed up to be an organ donor. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • An average of 79 people receive organ transplants every day. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • Every day, 22 people will die while waiting for an organ because of a shortage of donated organs. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • More than 120,000 people are currently waiting for an organ. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • A new person is added to the waiting list for an organ every 10 minutes. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • The five year prognosis for recipients of kidney, heart, lung, and liver transplants is good, with 55 to 92 percent of recipients still living five years after their transplant. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • Organs are not matched according to race or ethnicity, but individuals waiting for an organ transplant will have a better chance of a match among their racial or ethnic background. This is why it is important for people from all backgrounds to become organ donors. (OrganDonor.gov)
  • More than 6,000 annual transplants are from living donors. (WebMD)
  • 8,000 deaths occur every year in the U.S. because organs aren't donated in time. (Donate Life America)
  • 82 percent of patients are waiting for a kidney. (Donate Life America)
  • 1 out of 3 deceased donors is over the age of 50. (Donate Life America)
  • In 2015, 30,000 transplants were performed. (Donate Life America)
  • Since 1988, 655,000 transplants have taken place. (Donate Life America)
  • More than 40,000 corneal transplants take place each year in the U.S., making them the most commonly transplanted tissue. (American Transplant Foundation)
  • Living donors can donate a kidney, or a part of the liver, lung, intestine, blood, or bone marrow. About 5,000 living donations occur each year, and one in four donors is not biologically related to the recipient. (American Transplant Foundation)

Organs Needed in the United States

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, these are the organs currently needed in the United States:

  • Kidney: 99,413
  • Liver: 14,603
  • Pancreas: 968
  • Kidney/Pancreas: 1,876
  • Heart: 4,124
  • Lung: 1,404
  • Heart/Lung: 41
  • Intestine: 272

These are the ages of patients currently on the waiting list for donor organ transplants:

  • 1 Year: 112
  • 1-5 Years: 583
  • 6-10 Years: 390
  • 11-17 Years: 811
  • 18-34 Years: 10,193
  • 35-49 Years: 27,917
  • 50-64 Years: 53,384
  • 65+: 26,515

Myths and Facts About Organ Donation

While most people support organ donation, it is not always completely understood. Many people have misconceptions and hangups that prevent them from registering to become organ donors, but in most cases, they're simply not true. Get the facts about organ donation here.

Myth: Doctors and nurses won't work as hard to save organ donors.

Fact: Don't be fooled by TV dramas: the number one priority of medical professionals is always to save your life. Doctors and nurses will work as hard as they can to save you and will only consider organ donation after you have been declared dead. The doctors and nurses involved in your care before death are typically not a part of the recovery or transplantation of organs and tissues.

Myth: You might not really be dead before the hospital decides to begin taking organs.

Fact: Medical staff will always ensure that donors are dead before organ donation procedures begin. Typically, organ donors are given more tests to determine death than those who are not donors.

Myth: You have to be in perfect health to be an organ donor.

Fact: Organ donors are accepted regardless of age or medical history. Doctors will evaluate the condition of your organs when it's time. Few restrictions exist, such as HIV infection, active cancer, or systemic infection.

Myth: You have to be young to donate organs.

Fact: Organs of all ages are needed, from newborn to senior citizens. The condition of your organs is more important than your age.

Myth: You can't donate organs if you're under 18.

Fact: Minors can not authorize organ donation. However, minors can indicate to family their desire to donate organs. Parents or legal guardians can authorize organ donation.

Myth: You have to die before you can donate organs.

Fact: While obviously, not all organs can be donated from living donors, there are options for living donation, including tissues, kidney, and pieces of other organs including the liver and lungs. Kidney and liver patients who are able to receive a living donor transplant receive good organs sooner. And living donation saves two lives: the recipient as well as the next in line on the deceased organ waiting list.

Myth: Organ donation goes against my religion.

Fact: Many people have personal beliefs against organ donation. However, most major religions believe in organ donation and view donation as an act of charity and goodwill. Religions that support organ donation include Protestant faith, Roman Catholicism, Islam, and most branches of Judaism. Those unsure of religious beliefs should speak with a member of the clergy.

Myth: Organ donors can't have open casket funerals.

Fact: Donors are treated with respect, dignity, and care in the organ procurement process. Donor bodies are clothed for burial and any signs of organ donation are covered by clothing. Donation does not interfere with open casket funerals.

Myth: Rich and famous people get priority for available organs.

Fact: While prominent individuals tend to get more headlines when they receive an organ donation, they do not have priority. Strict standards and a national computer system are used in order to distribute organs ethically and fairly with considerations for matching, medical urgency, waiting time, and location.

Myth: Families have to pay for organ donation.

Fact: Organ donor families are not charged for tissue donation. Recipients do not have to pay for organs, however, there may be a cost for procedures and care.

Pros and Cons of Organ Donation

If you're on the fence about organ or tissue donation, whether living or deceased, these pros and cons can help you make your decision.

Organ Donation Pros

  • You can save a life, possibly multiple lives. You may even save the life of someone you love.
  • Your family can find comfort in knowing your organs saved others. Many families are consoled by the positive outcome of organ donation, particularly following a tragedy.
  • Organ donors and recipients do not have to be an exact match. They should have similar blood and tissue type. This makes it possible for your organs to save a wide variety of recipients.
  • Medical research donation can save even more lives. If you have a rare disease, donating your body can give researchers the resources they need to find a cure or treatment for future patients. Donations to the medical community also provide medical schools with cadavers students can learn from during their training period.

Organ Donation Cons

  • Living donation is major surgery and comes with risks.
  • You may have pain during recovery as a living donor. It will take some time to recover from surgery.
  • You may have lasting scars from living donor surgery.
  • Medical problems that develop from the transplant may not be covered by your insurance company.
  • Donor bodies are kept on life support until organs can be harvested, which can be difficult for surviving family.
  • Family members may feel uncomfortable about organ donation.

How to Become an Organ Donor

Supporting organ donation is not the same as being an organ donor. You'll have to speak up while you're in good health to ensure that your wishes to donate organs and tissue are carried out if possible after your death. You'll need to sign up as a donor, register as a donor, and talk to family members about your decision to become an organ donor so that they can give permission to doctors if the situation arises.

  • Indicate your donor status on your driver's license
  • Sign and carry a donor card.
  • Register as an organ donor.
  • Talk to your family about donating your organs.
  • Tell your physician about your choice to donate organs.
  • Make organ donation a part of your advance directives, will, and living will.

Organ and Tissue Donation Resources

Want to know more about organ and tissue donation? These resources have more information and ways to help.

  • OrganDonor.gov: Sign Up: On OrganDonor.gov, you can sign up to become an organ donor.
  • Medline Plus: Organ Donation: Get an overview of organ donation, the latest news, statistics, research, and more from MedlinePlus.
  • Donate Life America: Understand the types of donation available for organ donors, including living and deceased donation as well as the organs and tissues that can be transplanted.
  • Organize.org: Organize.org is working to use social media as a way to communicate your donor wishes.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing: Find data about transplantation including up to date numbers on transplant surgeries performed so far this year. On the website, you can also find facts about donation, how organ matching works, and get answers to frequently asked questions about transplantation.
  • American Transplant Foundation: The American Transplant Foundation offers information about transplants, including programs, events, and answers.
  • American Transplant Foundation: Personal Transplant Stories: Learn about the stories of donors and transplant recipients in these videos.
  • National Foundation for Transplants: Find out how you can support transplants with the National Foundation for Transplants.
  • Children's Organ Transplant Association: Learn about organ transplants for children from the Children's Organ Transplant Association.
  • Cleveland Clinic: Organ Transplantation: The Cleveland Clinic explains which organs and tissues can be transplanted and how the procedures work.
  • LifeGift: LifeGift shares how you can save lives, participate, and contribute to organ and tissue donation.
  • The Gift of a Lifetime: Transplant Journey See what happens for organ donors giving the gift of life and recipients waiting for the gift.
  • The Gift of a Lifetime: Faces of Donation: See the people affected by donation in these stories.
  • ABC News: Organ Donation News: Find the latest news and updates on organ donation from ABC News.
  • Photo by Flickr user derelllicht