Though 95% of adults support organ donation, only 58% are actually signed up as donors, according to organdonor.gov. Much of this is likely stems from hesitation due to concerns about the level of care people may receive in an emergency situation, as well as how their organs (and bodies for that matter) will be used.
If you have questions about organ donation, you’re certainly not alone. Here are some answers to FAQs to help you make the best choice for yourself.
Who oversees organ donation in the United States?
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the U.S. organ transplant system. The U.S. Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act in 1984, which established the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to maintain a national registry for organ matching. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), based in Richmond, Virginia, administers the OPTN under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Who can be a donor?
While many people think they aren’t able to donate organs because of age or medical conditions, organdonor.gov explains that all people should consider themselves potential organ and tissue donors—regardless of age, health, race or ethnicity. Organ health is the most important factor. Doctors will examine your organs and determine whether they are suitable for donation. Only few conditions would absolutely prevent a person from becoming a donor—such as active cancer or a systemic infection.
In Ohio, all people obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or ID card will be asked if they would like to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. Parental or guardian consent is required if a child under the age of 18 dies and becomes eligible to donate.
Do I have to be registered to become a donor?
You can register to be an organ and tissue donor, either at the DMV or by signing up with the Ohio Donor Registry. If you are not signed up to be an organ donor at your time of death, a person’s next of kin or “agent” will be asked to provide consent for donation. That’s why it’s important to put your wishes in writing and discuss them with your family and others close to you.
How will my organs be used? Will I end up as a cadaver in some medical student class?
Ohio law states that by registering to be an organ donor, you’re agreeing to make an anatomical gift, which it defines as “a donation of all or part of a human body to take effect after the donor’s death for the purpose of transplantation, therapy, research, or education.
According to Lifebanc, Northeast Ohio’s nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization, organs from donors will first and foremost be considered for use for transplantation. Transplanting to save lives is the priority. If, however, the organ is not able to be used for a transplant, it can legally be considered for use in research. However, there are strict rules and procedures for doing so.
However, registering to be an organ donor does NOT mean your body will be used as a cadaver in a medical classroom. If you do wish to donate your body for medical education, it’s best to reach out to a nearby school or other medical institution because each has its own program and procedures. Here is a list of anatomical donation programs in Ohio.
Will I receive sufficient medical care if I’m an organ donor?
The medical team attempting to save your life in an emergency situation is different than the transplant team. Whether an organ donor or not, medical professionals will make every attempt to save your life in an emergency situation. According to organdonor.gov, only after brain death has been confirmed and the time of death noted, can organ donation become a possibility. Brain death is NOT defined as a coma. Brain death occurs when the brain is totally and irreversibly non-functional. Brain death is caused by not enough blood supply of oxygen which causes the brain cells to die.
Can I still be embalmed and have an open casket?
An open casket funeral is usually possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors, states organdonor.gov. Surgical techniques are used to retrieve organs and tissues, and all incisions are closed. Organs and tissues are recovered by a team of skilled clinicians and in a manner that respects a family or donor’s funeral wishes, including an open-casket viewing.
With more than 113,000 men, women and children currently on an organ transplant waiting list, whether or not to become an organ donor is an important decision. Knowing the need, along with the laws around donation, can help you make the right choice for you.
Have other questions about organ donation or another legal topic? Contact me today to set up a time to chat.
Please be advised that Christina M. Hronek is licensed to practice in the State of Ohio only and the information provided in this article is based upon Ohio law. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.