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Thinking About Becoming an Organ Donor (After Death)? Here’s What You Need To Know

Give life after death.


Every year at about this time, we look forward to the end of winter. Its leafless trees and brown grass promise that the new life of spring and its accompanying green foliage and flowers in bloom is on its way. Ends giving way to beginnings is a beautiful thing, both in nature and in man — and it’s one of several reasons many people elect to become organ donors.

Death isn’t the most pleasant subject to think and talk about, but the fact that it’s inevitable remains. It’s one of the only things we all experience. So why not put a plan for it in place? Maybe you’ve thought about being an organ donor, but you don’t know what happens, or how to become one; or maybe you’ve just never thought about it all, which is fine, too. Below is information about what it means to become an organ donor after death, what happens, and how to register. 

Why should I become an organ donor after death?

Penn State Medicine says that more than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant in the US, and that one person is added to that number about every nine minutes. Because the need outnumbers the supply, 17 people die waiting for an organ every day. And although roughly 170 million people are registered organ donors, only three in 1,000 donors have viable organs at the time of death. The good news, however, is that just one viable, deceased organ donor can save up to eight lives. Important organs like intestines, lungs, hearts, kidneys, eyes, livers, tissue, and pancreases can be donated to those in need.

But while 95 percent of American adults support organ donation, Donate Life America reports that only about 60 percent are registered donors. Kim Olthoff, MD, Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery at Penn State says, “The fact of that matter is, we need more organ donors. If more people designate donation on their driver’s licenses, or more people talk about the decision to be an organ donor with their families and loved ones … we would be able to save so many more lives through transplantation.” To become an organ donor is to leave a legacy of life. 

Fast Facts About Deceased Organ Donation

There are multiple reasons people decline to become organ donors: fear of the process, religious prohibitions. Ultimately, how you use your body is your choice. Still, getting the facts about organ donation can eliminate misconceptions. Here are some facts from Temple Health that you might not know. 

If you’re a registered organ donor and need life-saving medical attention, your doctors will still do everything in their power to save your life. Some people fear that, because they have valuable organs they are willing to donate, their healthcare teams won’t prioritize their life. This isn’t true. In fact, doctors may not even discover you’re an organ donor until all life-saving efforts are exhausted. Doctors perform extensive testing to make sure a person has passed — become fully brain dead — before taking any steps toward organ donation. 

Organ donors can still have an open-casket funeral. Transplanting surgeons carefully close all incisions with respect and compassion for the body. Donors can still have open-casket funerals, even if they have donated several organs. 

Your family does not pay for your organ donation. Any and all expenses associated with organ donation are not charged to the family of the deceased.

You can become an organ donor at any age. You’re never too old or too young — you could still help save lives.

You can be a donor even if you aren’t in peak physical condition. Donation has been successful even if the donor has been injured or fallen ill. Doctors will determine the health and viability of organs after death.

What happens if you decide to become a deceased organ donor?

Now that you know some of the baseline facts, you may be wondering what exactly happens after you die as an organ donor. The Health Resources & Services Administration lays out the process. 

  1. After all attempts at saving your life, your doctor will determine whether or not you have any brain activity. If you are brain dead, you will not recover, and death is imminent. 
  2. Once brain death is confirmed, the hospital contacts your local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), and someone from the OPO will travel to your hospital and decide whether or not you are a possible donor. They need legal consent, so they will review your state’s registry, driver’s license, or discuss with your family. Once they have consent, they do a medical review. 
  3. After evaluation, you are matched with potential recipients in the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network — people awaiting transplants. Most donated organs go to someone nearby, as organs only stay healthy for a short time outside the body. 
  4. Once you’ve been matched with a recipient, a new medical team specifically dedicated to transplantation (it’s never the same team as the one that tried to save your life) will remove the designated organ, put it on artificial support, and carefully close your cuts. 
  5. Organs are then transported to the recipient’s hospital via helicopter, plane, or ambulance.

How To Become a Deceased Organ Donor

Are you interested in becoming an organ donor? It’s a serious decision that only you can make. No matter how many facts you know, how many pros and cons you’ve memorized, or how many people tell you what you should do, the choice is completely yours to make. If you decide that becoming a deceased organ donor is right for you, registration is quick and simple. And keep in mind that registering doesn’t mean you’ll be a match — but that you have the potential to be a match. It’s never too early or late to sign up, which you can do at Click on your state to begin the registration process. 

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