Deceased Donation

Deceased donation is the process of giving organs, corneas or tissues at the time of the donor’s death for the purpose of transplantation. Deceased donation can only occur after death has been declared by medical professionals who are not part of the donation and transplant process.

How Does the Deceased Donation Process Work?

Waiting for a Transplant

When someone’s organ fails, they may be evaluated for a potential transplant and placed on the national waiting list.

The list is very long and not everyone survives while waiting for a donor.

Donors of all ages are needed.

In the United States, it is illegal to buy or sell organs and tissue for transplantation.

Becoming a Donor

When a person dies, it is either by brain death or cardiac death (when your heart stops). Donation can happen after brain death or cardiac death, under certain conditions.

Brain death occurs when a person has sustained a severe brain injury, such as from an accident, stroke or lack of oxygen and is on ventilated support (machine that breathes for them) in a hospital. Doctors work hard to save the patient’s life, but sometimes there is a complete and irreversible loss of brain function. The patient is declared clinically and legally dead. Only then is donation an option.

Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD) is possible when the patient has suffered a fatal injury and is not brain dead. The patient’s family may decide to remove care and ventilated support to allow the patient to die naturally. The patient is taken off the ventilator (machine breathing for them). When their heart stops beating, a physician declares cardiac death.

The hospital staff won’t know the patient’s donor status, and eligibility as a donor can only be checked by donation professionals. The hospital contacts the organ procurement organization (OPO), which checks the donor registry. If the person is registered, the OPO will inform the family. If not, the family will be asked to authorize donation. Only then does recovery take place of organs, corneas and tissues to save and heal the lives of others.

For all organ, eye and tissue donation, the donor is treated with care and respect, and the donor family is supported throughout the donation process. There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for donation. Donation can provide solace to a grieving family.

All major religions support donation as a final act of compassion and generosity.

Finding a Match

A national system matches available organs from the donor with people on the waiting list.

Blood type, body size, how sick, donor distance, tissue type and time on list are among criteria considered.

Race, income, gender, celebrity and social status are never considered.

Saving Lives

Once matches are found, the wait-listed patients are contacted by their transplant teams.

Organs are recovered from the donor with care and respect, and sent to hospitals for transplantation.

Transplants restore lives and return patients as active members of their families and communities.

Once donation has been determined to be an option, state donor registries and the National Donate Life Registry are searched securely online to check if the patient has personally authorized donation. If the patient is not found in the Registry, their next of kin or legally authorized representative (usually a spouse, relative or close friend) is offered the opportunity to authorize the donation. Once the donation decision is established, the family is asked to provide a medical and social history. Donation and transplantation professionals determine which organs can be transplanted and to which patients on the national transplant waiting list the organs are to be allocated.

More About the Organ Donation Process

Although there have been advances in medical technology, the demand for organ, eye and tissue donation still vastly exceeds the number of donors. Donate Life America is working to increase the number of registered organ donors and develop a culture where organ donation is embraced as a fundamental human responsibility.

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