October 15, 2015

Organ donation facts: We debunk the myths


Signing up to donate organs makes you an instant hero. Learn 10 facts about organ donation.

In 2015, more than 30,000 Americans received a second chance at life thanks to organ donations — with about 850 of them Tennesseans, the Tennessee Donor Services reports.

And despite the 2,900-person waiting list in Tennessee, only 301 Tennessee residents donated organs in 2015 upon their death. Organ donation misconceptions may be a reason for low participation in the Donate Life program. Educate yourself with the facts about organ donation. We address 10 of the most common organ donation myths below.

MYTH: Doctors and nurses won’t do everything they can to save me if I register to be an organ and tissue donor.

FACT: You will receive the same level of care regardless of whether you are an organ and tissue donor. According to federal law, doctors treating a potential donor in the hospital are not permitted to also be involved with transplant programs or transplant candidates.

MYTH: Doctors will recover organs and tissues even if I’m not dead.

FACT: Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. The medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplant team.

MYTH: Famous or wealthy people get transplants quicker.

FACT: Organ recipients are selected based upon criteria including location, length of time on the waiting list, medical urgency and tissue matching. A national computerized system is used to match available organs with potential recipients.

MYTH: If I am a donor, I can’t have an open casket viewing at my funeral.

FACT: Someone who is an organ and tissue donor can have a traditional funeral service with an open casket viewing. The donation operation does not disfigure the body. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care and dignity and is reconstructed after organs and tissues are removed.

MYTH: The donor’s family is charged for the donation process.

FACT: The family is responsible for the cost of lifesaving efforts; expenses related to donation are paid by the organ and tissue recovery organization. The family makes the funeral arrangements and is responsible for all funeral costs. Donation does not interrupt funeral arrangements.

MYTH: My age or medical history prohibits me from donating.

FACT: Almost everyone, regardless of age, can donate something to help others. Donors can range in age from newborn to senior citizen. People of all ages and most medical histories can give a precious gift by becoming an organ and tissue donor. Careful tests are done before removing organs to ensure the donor has no infectious diseases that could put the recipient at risk. Complete medical screening and evaluation are done to ensure the organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

MYTH: I can sell my organs.

FACT: It is against the law to buy or sell human organs and tissues in the U.S. In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act, which outlawed buying and selling human organs. By federal law, all organs recovered for transplant from deceased donors in this country are monitored and tightly controlled by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), making it illegal to retrieve or transplant human organs outside of the system. The intent of the law is to ensure equal access to donor organs.

MYTH: Donation is emotionally painful for donor families.

FACT: Many families say that donation often eases their grief because they know that their personal tragedy gave new life to others. Not knowing how their loved one felt about donation makes discussing it difficult, which is why it is so important to register your decision and talk to your family about donating life.

MYTH: Organ recipients will know my identity.

FACT: The identity of all parties is kept confidential unless both parties agree otherwise. The donor family and transplant recipient may opt to receive information such as age, gender and state of residence of the donor or recipient. Individually, the recipient may be told the circumstances of death, and the donor family may be informed of the transplants that were performed and receive feedback on how the health and lives of the recipients have improved. The donation agency facilitates correspondence and meetings initiated by either the donor family or the recipient, but only if both parties give consent.

Some people worry that organ donation may go against the teachings of their faith.

The donation of life is an act of kindness. If you have questions about the spiritual implications of organ donation, talk to a person of authority within your faith.

Help save a life. Sign up to become an organ and tissue donor today.

Learn more

The Vanderbilt Transplant Center is one of the South’s main providers of kidney, heart, liver, lung, pancreas, stem cell and bone marrow transplants. Learn more by clicking here.

Learn about organ donations and how you can register at Donate Life Tennessee.