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Organ Donation

Organ Donation – A Legacy of Life and Good Health

Few of us can say we’ve saved someone’s life in our lifetime. But you can leave an incredibly meaningful legacy and save as many as eight lives as an organ donor. Two donated kidneys can get two people off dialysis. A heart, lung, or pancreas can give someone a new lease on life. A liver can be split in two and save two lives. Bone, tendons, corneas, and other tissues from a single donor can dramatically improve 75 lives.

In the early days of transplantation, organ rejection was a major issue. Since then, major medical advances have been made to prevent or treat rejection. Every day, nearly 100 organs are transplanted in the US. Roughly one million tissue transplants and 50,000 corneal transplants are performed each year. In 2023, 16,335 individuals were able to donate one or more organs after death – a nearly 10% percent increase from 2022.

Unfortunately, donor organs and tissues remain in short supply. Nearly 114,000 people, including 22,000 Californians, are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Each day, 17 people die for lack of a suitable organ for transplant and 150 people are added to the national organ transplant wait list. Just over 50% of people on the waiting list will receive an organ within five years.

Why is the wait so long for a transplant? The donor’s blood type must be compatible with that of the recipient. The organ needs to be the right size. The location of the donor and recipient matters, especially for the heart and lungs, which only remain viable for transplant outside the body for four to six hours. How the donor died is critical. Only three people in a thousand will die in a way that makes organ donation possible. However, the biggest reason it takes so long to receive an organ is that there simply aren’t enough organ donors.

Debunking the Misconceptions

Becoming an organ donor is a deeply personal decision, and it’s essential to have accurate information. There are a lot of misconceptions out there. Below are some of the most common.

If I’m injured or seriously ill, hospital staff won’t work as hard to save me if I’m an organ donor.
Doctors and hospital staff are dedicated to saving your life – not the life of somebody who could be helped with your organs. In fact, they probably won’t even be aware of your donation status while they do everything in their power to help you.

My family will have to pay for tests and procedures.
Donor families do not pay ANY fees, from the extra testing performed on donors to any part of the procedures on either the donors or the recipients.

I think organ donation is against my religion.
Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, most branches of Judaism, and most Protestant faiths all approve organ donations. Ask your religious leader to be sure.

I want an open-casket funeral.
After donation, the donor is taken to a funeral home and their body is treated with respect and consideration. If an open casket funeral is desired, there will be no visible trace that the person was an organ donor.

I'm too old and/or unhealthy to donate.
Anyone can be a donor, regardless of age, ethnicity, or medical history. The decision to use your organs is based on the health of your organs, not your age. More than a third of all deceased donors are 50 or older. Most medical conditions don’t preclude organ donations. The health care team decides at the time of death whether organs and tissues can be transplanted.

The process is unfair. Rich, famous, or influential people go to the top of the waitlist.
Strict standards ensure fairness and donors and recipients are matched up by computer. Being a prominent person does not affect one’s position on the waitlist, although famous people such as David Crosby, Dick Cheney, or Selena Gomez do make the news after getting a transplant. A wealthy person can’t circumvent the waitlist by “buying” an organ, which is against federal law.

How to Register as an Organ Donor

In California, anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up on the Donate Life California Registry at the DMV. This can also be done online if you are 13 and older, but registered donors younger than 18 need parental consent. The need for minority donors is high. Black, Asian American or Pacific Islander, Hispanic, or Native American people are more likely to have certain illnesses affecting the kidneys, heart, lung, pancreas, or liver. In addition, some blood types are more common among some minority groups.

You can easily sign up by checking “YES” at the DMV when applying for or renewing your driver license or ID. Be sure to:

  • Sign up on California’s state registry. To register for another state, check the list at
  • Mark your choice on your driver's license
  • Tell your family and/or whoever you have designated as your healthcare proxy in the event you are incapacitated that you want to be an organ donor


This article appeared in the April 2024 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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