The Basic Facts
- On average, 21 people die every day in the U.S. while awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant.
- The total number of patients waiting for an organ transplant today numbers more than 120,000. Over 600 of them are 5 years or younger.
- The waiting list for organ transplants is growing at the rate of 4,000 per month. Another name is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes.
- A total of 29,532 organ transplants were performed in the United States in 2014.
- Yet in 2014, there were only 8,596 people who donated one or more organs upon death. There were another 5,821 living organ donors.
- The refusal rate among families of potential donors nationwide is around 50 percent. However, a recent Gallup poll found that 93% of respondents indicate they are in support of organ and tissue donation.
- To ensure your wish to give life is carried out, through a donation directive, it is very important to sign up on the Donate Life Registry within your state (www.donatelife.net).
- Transplantation is no longer considered experimental. It is a desired treatment for thousands with end-stage organ disease. Each year, approximately 900,000 Americans receive tissue transplants and more than 28,000 receive organ transplants.
- In recent years, medical breakthroughs have greatly improved the success rate for transplantation, which now generally runs in excess of 80 percent.
- Under ideal conditions, one person can donate as many as 8 organs (heart, 2 lungs, liver, pancreas, 2 kidneys, and intestine). At today’s average recovery rate, the current pool of potential donors could meet the needs of up to 50,000 people per year.
Also, to dispel some myths and misconceptions:
- Becoming a donor will not affect the quality of your medical care. Organ recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted, and doctors have declared you legally brain dead. The donor family pays none of the costs associated with donation. In most cases, organ, tissue and eye donation does not interfere with an open-casket viewing. Before moving forward with a procedure we provide information to families and answer their questions to ensure we fully understand their wishes. The recovery of organs, tissues and eyes is preformed by qualified surgeons and recovery staff in a sterile environment. As in any other surgical procedure, the body is treated with the utmost respect and care.
- Transplants are accessible and available to everyone. Celebrity status and wealth do not enter into the equation. Organs are allocated according to medical criteria (urgency of medical need, blood/tissue type, height and weight).
- Most major religions support or permit donation and consider it a gift, an act of charity.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why Should Someone Consider Organ Donation?
A: There is a severe shortage of organ donations in the United States. Nationally eighteen people die each day waiting for a transplant. Right now more than 110,000 people are on the waiting list, more than a third of them will die before an organ can be found. The numbers are growing. The waiting list is increasing at a rate of 1,000 people a month. Another name is added every 13 minutes.
Q: How Does One Become An Organ Donor?
A: In Tennessee, New Mexico and California, you can sign up when applying for or renewing your driver’s license or I.D. card, or sign up today online at Donate Life America (www.donatelife.net)- to ensure your wishes are honored. Your personal information will be kept secure and confidential. It will be accessible only to authorized organ and tissue recovery personnel. Please click here to sign up now (LINK – www. donatelife.net.)
Q: If My Loved One Is An Organ Donor, Will Everything Be Done To Save His Or Her Life?
A: Yes, absolutely. The process of donation takes place only after physicians declare you brain dead, using strict neurological examinations. Your family is then consulted regarding donation. Brain death occurs in patients who have suffered severe injury to the brain, such as a motor vehicle accident, a gunshot wound to the head, or blow to the head. (In the U.S. about 15,000 people die such a death each year, but only 8,000 actually become organ donors). As a result of the injury, the brain swells and obstructs its own blood supply, causing brain tissue to die, and cessation of brain function. This condition is irreversible. However, the vital organs (heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestine and kidneys) can be kept viable for a few days, if supported by artificial mechanical means, i.e., a ventilator. Brain death is an established medical and legal diagnosis of death.
Q: Why, And For How Long Must The Ventilator Be Kept On After Declaration Of Death?
A: The ventilator is needed to provide oxygen to the vital organs, and will be kept on until surgery can be arranged and performed. Without oxygen, the organs would die, and not be viable for transplant.
Q: What Is The Maximum Time Span Between Recovering Organs/Tissues and Transplantation?
A: The approximate maximum time for the following organs/tissues is: Heart-lung (4-6 hours); Lung (4-6 hours); Heart (4-6 hours); Liver (24 hours); Pancreas (24 hours); Kidney (72 hours); Corneas (14 days); Bone (5 years); Skin (5 years); Heart valves (10 years).
Q: Who Gives Consent To Donate?
A: You give consent by signing up on your statewide registry, which can be done online at www.donatelife.net or when you apply for your driver’s license. Once you sign up with your state Registry, your donor designation grants authorization for organ and tissue recovery. Should you be in the position to donate, your next of kin will be presented with documentation of your registration and consulted regarding donation, but will not have the power to override your decision. Your registration acts as a Donation Directive.
Q: What Is The “Required Request” Legislation?
A: The law (Omnibus Reconciliation Act passed in l986) was implemented due to the growing list of transplant candidates, and the tremendous shortage of organs. To meet this need, the law states that any hospital that receives government funding is required to give families the option of donation.
Q: Will Any Pain Be Felt During Surgery?
A: No. Since all brain activity has stopped, and the central nervous system has ceased to function, it is physically impossible to feel pain.
Q: How Do Major Religious (LINK TO RELIGIOUS VIEWS) Groups Feel About Organ And Tissue Donation?
A: All major religions in the United States either support or permit organ donation. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths support donation as an act of human benevolence in keeping with religious doctrine. They believe that this is essentially a gift of life to another person. Meanwhile, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam believe that organ donation is a matter of individual conscience. If you have questions in this regard, we encourage you to consult with your religious leader.
Q: Is An Open Casket Funeral Possible After Organs And/or Tissues Are Removed?
A: In most cases, organ, tissue and eye donation does not interfere with an open-casket viewing. Before moving forward with a procedure we provide information to families and answer their questions to ensure we fully understand their wishes. The recovery of organs, tissues and eyes is preformed by qualified surgeons and recovery staff in a sterile environment. As in any other surgical procedure, the body is treated with the utmost respect and care.
Q: Will The Funeral Be Delayed?
A: The time between death and donation is 12 to 36 hours for most organs and tissues. Surgery is scheduled as soon as possible. After donation, the body is released to the funeral home.
Q: Do Donor Families Have To Pay Costs Associated With The Donation?
A: No. All costs related to organ and/or tissue donations will be covered by the organ and tissue donor program. You will not be financially responsible for any aspect of the donation process. However, funeral arrangements and costs remain the responsibility of the relatives or persons in charge of the estate.
Q: How Are Recipients Chosen?
A: Recipients are matched with available organs based on strict criteria that include: medical urgency, time on the waiting list, geographic proximity, and blood and tissue type. A national waiting list of recipients is maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit service under contract with the federal government, located in Richmond, Virginia. UNOS was established under the National Organ Transplant Act of l984 and serves transplant centers, physicians, and donor organizations nationwide.
Q: Can You Buy and Sell Organs?
A: No. It is a crime to buy or sell organs under state law and the National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507). Anyone convicted of violating this law is subject to a maximum fine of $50,000, and/or a maximum of five years imprisonment. Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) such as Golden State Donor Services, which coordinate all activities associated with donation, (including distribution), are nonprofit agencies certified, and monitored by the U.S. government’s Health Care Financing Administration.
Q: What Parts Of The Body Can Be Recovered For Transplantation?
A: Vital organs for transplantation (8 of them) include the heart, liver, pancreas, intestine, 2 kidneys, and 2 lungs. Also, tissues can be recovered, including corneas (to help blind people see), bone (to help those who might otherwise face amputation), skin (to help burn patients heal), heart valves (many times used for newborns with heart problems), tendons and veins.
Q: Who Is Eligible To Be A Donor?
A: Anyone is eligible, from newborns to 80-year-olds. However, everyone who wants to be a donor should sign up on their statewide registry (www.donatelife.net) or when you apply for or renew your driver’s license. Transplant coordinators along with transplant surgeons evaluate each potential donor, and the viability of each organ. They do a thorough evaluation of a donor’s social and medical history as well as blood tests. But, upfront, everyone is a potential donor, and is encouraged to sign up on their statewide registry (www.donatelife.net).
A common question that arises when people are asked to donate their organs and tissues or those of their loved ones is: “Is my decision compatible with my religious beliefs?”
A recent Gallup poll found that less than 10 percent were aware that their religion has laws and doctrines governing organ and tissue donation.
Though answers may vary from one denomination to another, research has found that a majority of religions do support organ donation. The following are just a few of the findings:
Locate the religious affiliation of your interest from the list below.
- AME & AME Zion (African Methodist Episcopal)
- Assembly of God
- Roman Catholic
- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Church of Christ
- Christian Science
- Greek Orthodox
- Independent Conservative Evangelical
- Jehovah’s Witness
- Lutheran Church
- Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)
- Seventh-Day Adventist
- Society of Friends (Quakers)
- Unitarian Universalist
- United Church of Christ
- United Methodist
AME & AME Zion
(African Methodist Episcopal)?Organ and tissue donation is viewed as an act of neighborly love and charity by these denominations. They encourage all members to support donation as a way of helping others.
The Amish will consent to transplantation if they are certain that it is for the health and welfare of the transplant recipient. They would be reluctant to transplant their organs if the transplant outcome was considered questionable. John Hostetler, world-renowned authority on Amish religion and professor of anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, says in his book, Amish Society, “The Amish believe that since God created the human body, it is God who heals.” However, nothing in the Amish understanding of the Bible forbids them from using modern medical services, including: surgery, hospitalization, dental work, anesthesia, blood transfusions or immunization.
Though Baptists generally believe that organ and tissue donation and transplantation are ultimately matters of personal conscience, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, adopted a resolution in 1988 encouraging physicians to request organ donation in appropriate circumstances and to “…encourage volunteerism regarding organ donations in the spirit of stewardship, compassion for the needs of others and alleviating suffering.” Other Baptist groups have supported organ and tissue donation as an act of charity and leave the decision to donate up to the individual.
While no official position has been taken by the Brethren denominations, according to Pastor Mike Smith, there is a consensus among the National Fellowship of Grace Brethren that organ and tissue donation is a charitable act so long as it does not impede the life or hasten the death of the donor or does not come from an unborn child.
Buddhists believe that organ and tissue donation is a matter of individual conscience and place high value on acts of compassion. Reverend Gyomay Masao Kubose, president and founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago says, “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.” The importance of letting loved ones know your wishes is stressed.
Catholics view organ donation as an act of charity, fraternal love and self-sacrifice. Transplants are ethically and morally acceptable to the Vatican. The late Pope John Paul II stated, “Those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His life for the salvation of all, should recognize the urgent need for a ready availability of organs for transplants a challenge to their generosity and fraternal love.” According to Father Leroy Wickowski, Director of the Office of Health Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago, “We encourage donation as an act of charity. It is something good that can result from tragedy and a way for families to find comfort by helping others.”
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Christian Church encourages organ and tissue donation, stating that we were created for God’s glory and for sharing God’s love. A 1985 resolution, adopted by the General Assembly, encourages “…members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to enroll as organ donors and prayerfully support those who have received an organ transplant.”
The Church of Christ Scientist does not have a specific position regarding organ donation. According to the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston, Christian Scientists normally rely on spiritual instead of medical means of healing. They are free, however, to choose whatever form of medical treatment they desire – including a transplant. The question of organ and tissue donation is an individual decision.
In 1982, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution recognizing the life-giving benefits of organ, blood, and tissue donation and encouraging all Christians to become organ, blood, and tissue donors “as part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we may have life in its fullness.”
According to spokesperson, Reverend Dr. Milton Efthimiou, director of the Department of Church and Society for the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, the Greek Orthodox Church is not opposed to organ donation as long as the organs and tissues in question are used to better human life, i.e., for transplantation or for research that will lead to improvements in the treatment and prevention of disease.
Gypsies are a people of different ethnic groups without a formalized religion. They share common folk beliefs and tend to be opposed to organ donation. Their opposition is connected to their beliefs about the afterlife. Traditional belief contends that for one year after death the soul retraces its steps. Thus, the body must remain intact because the soul maintains its physical shape.
According to the Hindu Temple Society of North America, Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs. This act is an individual’s decision. H. L. Trivedi, in “Transplantation Proceedings”, states that, “Hindu mythology has stories in which the parts of the human body are used for the benefit of other humans and society. There is nothing in the Hindu religion indicating that parts of humans, dead or alive, cannot be used to alleviate the suffering of other humans.”
The religion of Islam believes in the principle of saving human lives. According to A. Sachedina in his “Transplantation Proceedings” article, “Islamic View on Organ Transplantation, “…the majority of the Muslim scholars belonging to various schools of Islamic law have invoked the principle of priority of saving human life and have permitted the organ transplant as a necessity to procure that noble end.”
According to the Watch Tower Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe donation is a matter of individual decision. Jehovah’s Witnesses are often assumed to be opposed to donation because of their belief against blood transfusion. However, this merely means that all blood must be removed from the organs and tissues before being transplanted
All four branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist) support and encourage donation. According to Orthodox Rabbi Moses Tendler, Chairman of the Biology Department of Yeshiva University in New York City and Chairman of the Bioethics Commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, “If one is in the position to donate an organ to save another’s life, it’s obligatory to do so, even if the donor never knows who the beneficiary will be. The basic principle of Jewish ethics – ‘the infinite worth of the human being’ – also includes donation of corneas, since eyesight restoration is considered a life-saving operation.” In 1991, the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) approved organ donations as permissible, and even required, from brain-dead patients. The Reform movement looks upon the transplant program favorably and Rabbi Richard Address, Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Bio-Ethics Committee and Committee on Older Adults, states that “Judaic Response materials provide a positive approach and by and large the North American Reform Jewish community approves of transplantation.”
In 1984, the Lutheran Church in America passed a resolution stating that donation contributes to the well-being of humanity and can be “…an expression of sacrificial love for a neighbor in need.” They call on members to consider donating organs and to make any necessary family and legal arrangements, including the use of a signed donor card.
The Moravian Church has made no statement addressing organ and tissue donation or transplantation. Robert E. Sawyer, President, Provincial Elders Conference, Moravian Church of America, Southern Province, states, “There is nothing in our doctrine or policy that would prevent a Moravian pastor from assisting a family in making a decision to donate or not to donate an organ. It is, therefore, a matter of individual choice.”
Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believes that the decision to donate is an individual one made in conjunction with family, medical personnel and prayer. They do not oppose donation.
Pentecostals believe that the decision to donate should be left up to the individual. The individual and the family have the right to receive or to donate those organs and tissues that will restore any of the senses or will prolong the life profitably.
Donation and transplantation are strongly encouraged by Seventh-Day Adventists. They have many transplant hospitals, including Loma Linda in California. Loma Linda specializes in pediatric heart transplantation.
In Shinto, the dead body is considered to be impure and dangerous, and thus quite powerful. “In folk belief context, injuring a dead body is a serious crime. . .,” according to E. Namihira in his article, Shinto Concept Concerning the Dead Human Body. “To this day it is difficult to obtain consent from bereaved families for organ donation or dissection for medical education or pathological anatomy. . . the Japanese regard them all in the sense of injuring a dead body.” Families are often concerned that they not injure the itai, the relationship between the dead person and the bereaved people.
United Church of Christ
Reverend Jay Lintner, Director, Washington Office of the United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society, states, “United Church of Christ people, churches and agencies are extremely and overwhelmingly supportive of organ sharing.”The General Synod has never spoken to this issue because, in general, the Synod speaks on more controversial issues, and there is no controversy about organ sharing, just as there is no controversy about blood donation in the denomination. While the General Synod has never spoken about blood donation, blood donation rooms have been set up at several General Synods. Similarly, any organized effort to get the General Synod delegates or individual churches to sign organ donation cards would meet with generally positive responses.”
The United Methodist Church has issued a policy statement regarding organ and tissue donation. In it, they state that, “The United Methodist Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors by signing and carrying cards or driver’s licenses, attesting to their commitment of such organs upon their death, to those in need, as a part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we might have life in its fullness.” A 1992 resolution states, “Donation is to be encouraged, assuming appropriate safeguards against hastening death and determination of death by reliable criteria.” The resolution further states, “Pastoral-care persons should be willing to explore these options as a normal part of conversation with patients and their families.”
Facts about Donation
Critical Needs in Minority Community
Minorities represent 55 percent of the more than 110,000 patients currently awaiting transplants, yet they represent only about 25 percent of those donating organs.
The risk of end-stage kidney disease for some minorities (African American, Hispanics, and Native American) is three to four times higher than for the Caucasian population. Blacks and other minorities are hard hit by hypertension, diabetes, and kidney disorders… diseases which lead to organ failure. In fact, of the 88,068 people nationwide waiting for kidneys, 3,214 are African American (34%), 16,296 are Hispanic (18.5%), and 7,023 are Asian/Pacific Islanders (7.5%). (2011)
Also, African-Americans and Hispanics between the ages of 45 and 65 have twice as much diabetes as do Caucasians in this age group.
Because the minority population continues to grow (they now make up approximately one third of the US population), the need for minority donation and transplantation can be anticipated to grow as well.
While the number of minorities waiting for a transplant continues to grow, minority organ donations lag behind those of the white population. A breakdown by race in 2010 shows that deceased donations are overwhelmingly from the white population (66%). The black population accounts for 16.6%; Hispanic, 12.9%; and Asian / Pacific Islanders, 2.4%.
It’s critical to increase the availability of minority donors, in order to save lives within those communities. Fact is the best matches between donors and recipients often lie between members of the same race. Currently, the lack of minority organ donors decreases the number of well-matched kidneys and pancreases available for minority recipients.
What Can Be Donated?
One organ, eye and tissue donor can save the lives of eight people, the sight of two, and improve the health of over 50 more. Without a donor, transplant surgeons cannot help even one person.
Organs: Heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys and small intestines
Tissue Grafts: Corneas, heart valves, bones: ulna, radius, humerus, femur, tibia, fibula and calcaneus, skin, veins and arteries, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments.
Setting the Record Straight
- Your medical care will not be affected by your decision to donate. When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life, not somebody else’s.
- The organ donation process does not begin until death has been declared by a physician and confirmatory tests have been performed by the OPO. Brain death is the irreversible loss of function of the brain, including the brainstem. People DO NOT recover from death.
- All major religions support or permit donations, and most consider it the ultimate act of kindness and compassion.
- Donation costs you and your family nothing.
- Funeral arrangements will not be affected by your decision to donate.
- People of all ages and medical histories can be potential donors. Medical professionals will decide at the time of death whether or not one’s organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation. Don’t rule yourself out.
- The organ allocation system is fair and equitable. Organs are placed based on blood and tissue match-ups, geographic proximity, medical urgency and time on the waiting list. It is a fair and equitable system. The only thing lacking is donors. That’s why it’s so important to sign up to give life on your statewide registry (LINK – www.donatelife.net).
- When you sign up to be a donor with your statewide Registry, you ensure your wish to save lives will be honored. When someone adds their name to the state’s donor registry, they create a legally binding document, an Advanced Donation Directive. This relieves the family of the burden of making the donation decision.
- Add your name online to your statewide registry today (LINK- www.donatelife.net) or when you apply for or renew your driver’s license to ensure your wish to save lives will be carried out.
- Your decision to say YES! helps provide thousands of waiting transplant patients and their families a new chance to lead healthy, productive and normal lives.
History of Transplantation
- Allografts have a long history of safety and efficacy in almost all surgical specialties – orthopedic, spine, sports medicine, cardiac, dental, reconstructive, and several other surgeries.
- Allografts is a preferred option relative to metal, synthetic or xenografts in some of the surgical procedures such as early correction of congenital heart deformations
- Allograft usage has been increasing rapidly over the last several years. Approximately 875,000 allografts were implanted in 2001. That number has grown to more than 2.5 million by 2008
- A single donor can impact the lives of more than a hundred tissue recipients.
- Allografts transform the quality of life of millions of recipients because of the generosity of more than 30,000 tissue donors annually.