Organ Donation: The Gift of Life

Every day, people of all ages and backgrounds become donors—and recipients—of organs and tissues. Lives are saved and lives are transformed.

114,000+ men, women, and children are currently waiting on the US national transplant list. 20 people will die each day waiting for an organ that never comes.

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Who Can Donate?

All people should consider themselves potential organ and tissue donors—regardless of age, health, race, or ethnicity. Don’t rule yourself out! No one is too old or too young to donate and most major religions support donation as an act of compassion.

94% of U.S. adults consider themselves organ donors, but only 54% actually actively sign up to donate.

Sometimes myths and misperceptions about organ, eye, and tissue donation can prevent someone from electing to be a donor.

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Let’s dispel some of the myths associated with organ donation (borrowed from

Myth: I have a medical condition, so I can’t be a donor.

Fact: The transplant team will determine at an individual’s time of death whether donation is possible. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.

Myth: I’m too old to be a donor.

Fact: There’s no age limit to be an organ donor. What matters is the health and condition of your organs before you die.

Myth: I don’t think my religion supports donation.

Fact: Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others. For more about religion and organ donation, check here.

Myth: If the hospital sees I am a donor, they won’t try to save my life.

Fact: When you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the one and only priority is to save your life. The transplant team is motivated to SAVE LIVES. All lives.

Myth: My organs will be harvested.

Fact: Your organs will be recovered after you are properly declared brain dead. “Harvested” is an incorrect word and has been replaced by “recover” to not confuse the American people with the process.

Myth: Rich or famous people on the waiting list receive organs faster.

Fact: The factors used in matching include blood type, time spent waiting, other important medical information, how sick the person is, and geographic location. Race, income, and celebrity are NEVER considered.

Myth: My family won’t be able to have an open casket funeral if I’m a donor.

Fact: An open casket funeral is usually possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care, respect, and dignity.

Myth: My family will have to pay for the donation.

Fact: There is no cost to families for donation.

Myth: Somebody could take my organs and sell them.

Fact: Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the U.S. This is a quick way to earn a prison sentence and/or fine.

Myth: If I’m in a coma, they can take my organs.

Fact: Many people recover from comas. Brain death is NOT the same as coma. People can recover from comas, but not from brain death. Brain death is final. More about brain death >

Myth: People in the LGBT community can’t donate.

Fact: Yes they can. There is no policy or federal regulation that excludes a member of the LGBT community from donating organs.

You can help bust the myths about organ donation—and help save lives—by learning and sharing these facts. If you are waiting for an organ now, our thoughts are with you and I want you to leave a comment telling me what that’s like and what an organ would mean to you and your loved ones. And if you care about this, share this video with others.

Check out the original video here on Facebook and if you want instead to listen to the free podcast version, you can listen on iTunes and Soundcloud. Check out the DMV’s quick and easy Organ Donation Registration here. You can also register to be a donor here.

And below is a MUCH deeper-dive interview with Stanford biomedical ethics professor David Magnus, a world expert on brain death and organ donation. He correctly pointed out that I used the term “harvest” which is no longer correct; it’s “organ recovery, procurement, or rescue.”

You know awhile back I had an experience as a patient where I was registering at a hospital where I worked, through the registration desk, as a patient and the person who was registering me said, oh you’re a doctor? Oh well then you must understand about upstairs in ICU oh man they, if they see you’re an organ donor and I see on your driver’s license identification that you are, they’re gonna take your organs and let you die! And they’re gonna give ’em to rich people and then when your family has their open casket funeral, you’re gonna look all tore up and cut up and it’s gonna cost you money. They’re gonna somehow charge you for it and that’s how organ donation works. And I remember sitting there, just being perplexed by this and so angry that someone who actually talked to patients would say these horrible things about organ donation that I knew not to be true, and then I realized what it is. Organ donation is not a mind thing, it is a heart thing, literally and figuratively. It’s about how we feel about giving a gift that is so personal to other people. And when you click that little box on your driver’s license that says you are an organ donor, some people are just doing it for virtue signaling, look! And other people deeply connect with this idea that after they die, a part of them is gonna give life to someone else, a part of them is going to live on. Someone else’s blood through their heart but it’s their heart giving life to that person and they deeply feel this as a legacy. So I felt compelled to do a video where we talk about organ donation in terms of the myths and dispel some of them and also why we might wanna do it! And if you think about the child who’s waiting on an organ transplant list, there are 114,000 people waiting on a list to get an organ in the U.S. a life saving treatment, and there are something like 7,000 donors. We can do better than that, and just to kind of look at the things she said. If you are an organ donor they will let you die and take your organs. Listen, I take care of people in the ICU, we will never let you die to take your organs, in fact all our financial incentives, want us to do things to you to keep you alive. We don’t get money for giving your organs to somebody else, in fact if you’re a donor, when you’re declared brain dead and by the way that is a prerequisite. You have to be dead to be an organ donor. Then a different team comes, the transplant team and they surgically procure your organs in a way that preserves your external appearance for the open casket funeral. And this is why the major religions of the world consider organ donation an ultimate gift of life in the face of death. So you can have your open casket, and are they going to take your organs and give them to a rich person? No that’s not how it works. How it works is there’s a computerized system that takes everybody on the transplant list and they are ranked based on illness, the type of immune match with the organ, geography where they’re located, how sick they are, all these other things are then computer matched when an organ becomes available. And that organ will go to the best possible recipient regardless of race, economics, wealth those kind of things. So, it is one of the truly most egalitarian sort of justice-filled operations that you can find. Now look, guys I can tell you this all day but I have worked with transplant doctors, I recently spoke at Tampa General’s transplant program, and I didn’t know much going in actually, because I’m a hospitalist. If someone’s on the organ donation list, we call a transplant team. But when I talked to those transplant, not just the surgeons, but the nurses and the coordinators and the administrators who work in transplant. Many of them are transplant recipients themselves, they know what it’s like to have someone else’s lungs breathe for them. To take their first breath when they wake up after struggling with some disease that they never caused. And to get this gift, and they wanna give back, they are passionate and heroic and they work 24/7. And this beautiful gift is part of this huge system that’s been developed to bring it to people who need it. Now, another, another myth might be that you’re gonna have to pay if you donate your organs, for the cost of it. That’s absolutely not true, you don’t pay a penny. However we can’t pay you for your organs, that’s illegal because it might incentivize people to sell their organs, so that’s one thing that’s absolutely, you cannot be paid for your organs alright. Now the other thing we have to remember is that opting in on a list, people will say, well I’m not even gonna bother. To go to my registry in my state which we’ll provide links for or tell the DMV that I wanna be an organ donor. Because I’m too old or I have all these other medical conditions. You don’t need to worry about that. If it’s in your heart to donate an organ, just click the box, the team will determine whether you’re too old or too sick. The oldest donor recorded is 93 years old. So let the team decide, so this is you know and this idea that you know EMS or others are gonna let you die and harvest your organs is just not true. They’re motivated to save your life. The transplant team is then motivated to save the lives of people that could thrive in the face of the tragedy that befell you, and that little child whose waiting for the heart. And if you’ve seen these videos on Facebook where they’re just even told there’s a heart available someone gave the give to you, and you see them light up. Tell me that that’s not gonna get you to click that box, and here’s the thing, clicking the box and being on the registry isn’t enough. You need to tell your family members that this is what you want. Because when the time came that you’re donating and you’re there brain dead, prolonged on a machine to keep your organs alive and they ask your family. What if your family says we don’t want to, we don’t think he wanted to, we think he made a mistake. If you didn’t talk to them there’s gonna be conflict and we need the families there to give us a medical history, a social history, to make sure that organ is appropriate for the donor. So you need to talk to your family about you wishes. So here’s my call to actions. Instead of burying a million dollars in the ground when you die, ’cause that’s what you’re doing, give the gift of life. Become an organ donor on a registry, we’ll provide links via the DMV, talk to your family about it and then we as a nation need to do something that many are gonna disagree with. Instead of making this an opt-in process where you have to go out of your way to say I’m gonna donate life, it should be an opt-out process. We should tell our congressmen no, the default should be we are organ donors unless we tell people we aren’t! And that will change the game, entirely. If you are waiting for an organ now, our thoughts are with you and I want you to leave a comment telling me what that’s like and what an organ would mean to you and your loved ones. And if you care about this, share this video with others.