Myths and Facts About Organ Donation

In 2022, the United States reached 1 million organ transplants, a historic benchmark. Today, over 400,000 people live with transplanted organs. Still, every year more than 100,000 men, women, and children wait anxiously on the U.S. tissue and organ waiting list, some dying before receiving an organ. By registering to become a donor, you could save and help as many as 75 people. Still, no matter how many people you might save, you may have questions about donation afterlife. Learn the facts before you decide.

Key takeaways:
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    Today, surgeons can transplant eight different organs and many other tissues for people in need.
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    One person can help as many as 75 others by becoming a tissue donor.
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    Over 100,000 people wait eagerly on the transplant list every day.
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    It’s easy to register and could be the most generous gift you ever give.
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    Many questions and myths exist about organ donation. Know the facts before you decide.

A tissue donation is a generous gift from someone who dies. Giving an anatomical gift to someone waiting for a transplant brings them and their loved ones unspeakable hope and life.

If you become a donor, your heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, and intestines could save at least eight lives. Other tissue like heart valves, tendons, nerve tissue, veins, arteries, and corneas can also be gifted. So many transplants are possible that you could help up to 75 people as one tissue donor.

Concerns and questions often keep people from becoming anatomical gift-givers. Knowing the facts will help you decide.

Myths about organ donation

Myth: Doctors and nurses won’t work hard to save me if I’m an organ donor.

Fact: As a registered nurse, I cared for many dying patients in the hospital. I assure you doctors and nurses do not notice a patient’s donor status when working hard to save their life. Hospital teams ignore the issue until death is certain.

Also, the lifesaving staff is a different team than the transplant staff. In most countries, paying for tissue donation is illegal. There’s no incentive to value someone’s organs over saving a life.

Myth: My religion is against organ donation.

Fact: Most religions, including all major religions, support tissue donation. Even a Jehovah’s Witness may donate some tissue despite their rejection of blood transfusions. Talk with your religious leaders and review your sacred texts to be certain.

Myth: I’m too young to donate.

Fact: Youth under age 18 can choose to become a tissue and organ donor with parental consent. Some recipients need small-sized organs. Donations from younger people may be their only hope. Donating your child’s tissue after they die is an excruciating decision. But many families suffering such a loss feel comforted knowing their gift may save another child. One aunt who unexpectedly lost her nephew called his organ donation “the light at the end of our dark tunnel.”

Myth: I’m too old to donate.

Fact: There is no age limit to tissue donation. In 2020, one in three tissue donors was over the age of 50. One donor was 92 and donated his liver to a woman who was 69. Every age is the right age.

Myth: I’m not healthy enough to donate organs or tissues.

Fact: With so many different tissues and organs to donate, even people with health issues can register to donate. Corneas are often viable for donation regardless of health issues. With a 97% effective rate, over 82,000 corneal transplants gave people sight in 2018.

Myth: Donating tissue will delay my funeral and keep me from having an open casket service.

Fact: Tissue donation won’t delay your burial service because tissue must be harvested and transplanted quickly. The precise and careful work of surgeons and morticians also allows for open-casket funerals, no matter what you donate.

Myth: My body may be used for scientific research if I donate organs or tissue.

Fact: Anatomical gifts for science is different from transplant donations. The national list of transplant donors only registers you to gift your body for transplants, not scientific research.

Myth: My family will have to pay to donate my organs.

Fact: Hospitals do not charge donors and their loved ones for any part of the donation process. Instead, the receiving patient and their insurance company cover the donation cost. The hospital bill only reflects the cost of your medical care, and your estate will pay that cost, not your family's.

Myth: The rich and famous get organs and tissues first.

Fact: The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. government regulates the donation process closely. A national computer system starts the search using factors like how sick a patient is, how long they’ve waited, how close they are to the donated organ, and if the donor and recipient match well.

Myth: It’s complicated to become an organ donor.

Fact: Becoming a registered donor is a simple task. You can register online or in person with your local Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. It’s easy to register when you get a new driver’s license or sign up for your learner’s permit. Be sure to let your loved ones know so they honor your decision.

Myth: My family can donate my organs after I die against my wishes.

Fact: If you don't want to donate and you document that decision in your living will, the medical team is required to respect your wishes. Without your wishes in writing, the medical team will ask your family if they want to donate your tissue after trying all lifesaving treatments.