What is Organ Donation?

/ January 12, 2015

Dr with clip boardWhether to be an organ donation is a question most of us face only when we renew our drivers’ license. We may be faced with the decision again if we visit an estate planning attorney and discuss a health care directive. So it’s probably not surprising that there is a lot of mystery surrounding organ donation.

Today, only about 20 percent of Americans are registered as organ donors – not enough to meet the need of the over 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ donation.

You may find yourself asking how the process even works. According to the Mayo Clinic, many of the elements considered in matching organs from deceased donors to patients on the waiting list are the same for all organs. These usually include: blood type, body size, severity of patient’s medical condition, or the distance between the donor’s hospital and the patient’s hospital.

Mayo says if you agree to be an organ donor, you have you have agreed to have all of your organs, eyes and tissues made available for transplant at the time of your death. To determine your eligibility for donation at the time of your death, your family will be informed and will be asked to provide information about your social and medical history. Your family will receive support from LifeSource at the time of donation, and in the months and years following your death.

According to the United States Department of Human Services, the process of organ donation for a donor is as follows:

  1. Make the decision to enrolling as a donor.
  2. To actually become a donor, you would be admitted to the hospital, most likely after experiencing severe head trauma, brain aneurysm or stroke.
  3. If after a medical team has exhausted all lifesaving efforts, a physician, usually a neurosurgeon or neurologist, will conduct a series of tests to determine brain death. The government’s website specifically says “Patients who are brain dead have no brain activity and cannot breathe on their own. Brain death is not coma. Brain death is death.”
  4. Federal regulations require a hospital to notify the state’s organ procurement organization (OPO) when any patient has died or is nearing death. That organization then works to determine if there is potential for organ donation. It is the OPOs job to determine if the deceased is an organ donation, and if no consent is found, consult the family.
  5. The OPO then matches donors with recipients on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), a network maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Later in the week look for my next post to learn more about how to become an organ donor.