There are numerous questions people have about organ and tissue donation and transplantation. What follows are a few of the most commonly asked questions.
Potential to donate, regardless of age, will be determined at the time of death. People in their 80s have donated vital organs that have been successfully transplanted. No matter what your age is be sure to inform family members of your decision to be a donor.
The important thing to remember is that your potential to donate will be determined at the time of death. There are few medical illnesses that absolutely rule people out for organ donation. Medical criteria for tissue donation are stricter since most tissue transplants are considered life enhancing as opposed to life saving. Even if you have had a serious health problem like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, or even hepatitis you may still be able to donate at the time of death.
Many people who signed donor cards over the years believe they are part of a national donor registry. There is no universally recognized national registry of organ donors. Most states now offer the opportunity to register as a donor through the driver license program or through independent state-run registries. These state-based programs are important because they enable donors to go on record with their wishes; often donor cards are missing and families are unaware of their loved one's wishes. Even though a donor card is considered a legal document, most donor programs will defer to the family or next-of-kin if they object to donation; so, it is important that your family understands your wishes.
Brain death is a legal determination of death and involves the complete and irreversible loss of brain function including the brain stem, which controls breathing and heart rate. Brain death can occur in patients who have sustained injuries to the brain resulting from traumatic causes -- auto accidents, gunshot wounds, falls, blows to the head -- and non-traumatic causes like strokes, aneurysms, drowning, and heart attacks during which time the brain is deprived of blood and oxygen. Brain dead patients are patients who are in the hospital in an intensive care unit on total artificial life support. Brain death should not be confused with coma or persistent vegetative state; these are conditions under which patients still have some brain function and may be breathing on their own.
Under most circumstances, organ and tissue donation should not affect your family's plans for a funeral, including the opportunity to have an open-casket viewing or service. In some instances there may be a slight delay in order to allow the organ or tissue recovery to take place.
There should be no additional costs to your family or estate if you are an organ or tissue donor. Organ and tissue donor programs work closely with hospitals and funeral directors to ensure that any donation-related costs in the hospital or afterward at the funeral home are covered.
All patients awaiting transplant are on the same national transplant waiting list, which is blind to celebrity status, income, and race or ethnicity. Organs are given to patients based on the severity of illness, match with the donor, and time on the waiting list. Yes, some celebrities have gone on the transplant waiting list and received transplants quickly, and so have thousands of non-celebrity patients who never make it into the national news. Media attention focused on famous people who receive transplants tends to magnify the misperception that celebrities get special treatment.
This is a famous urban legend. This story has been told in a variety of forms since the 1980s and gained ground on the Internet back in the late 1990s. The story is often told something like this: A friend of a friend has a cousin whose husband is a lawyer in New York City (or some other city) representing a man whose kidney was stolen. It seems that he met a girl in a bar who slipped some drugs into his drink. He woke up in a bathtub full of ice with a phone next to the bathtub. On the phone was a note that read, "Call 911, we've taken your kidney." Like most famous urban legends there isn't an ounce of evidence that this has ever taken place. This story has been covered extensively and has even served as the basis for fictional television programs. Despite the far-fetched scenario, many people still believe the story is true.
Unfortunately, distrust in the medical community expresses itself in many ways. This myth is a widely held belief or fear in our society. It's important to understand that emergency personnel are in no way connected to transplant programs, nor do they have anything to gain, financially or otherwise, by letting a patient die in order to remove organs or tissues. Another commonly overlooked fact is that emergency personnel in hospitals rarely, if ever, see any documentation of an individual's desire to be a donor; donor cards and driver licenses simply do not make it into the hands of doctors caring for accident victims. The police typically have this information and hold onto it or return it to the victim's family.