Become an Organ Donor: Young and Elderly Donate to Improve Lives Mary King | Suite 101
Learn the facts about organ donation. Can seniors sign up to be organ donors? Can an organ donor decide what body parts can & cannot be harvested?
Each year, thousands of Americans receive organ and tissue transplants as a result of disease, infection, accidents or genetic deformity. Thousands more wait on the organ transplant list for a suitable donor match. For some transplant candidates, waiting is a race against time – a matter of life and death.
Successful transplant surgery is only part of the story. The gift of life or gift of replacement tissue, eyes, skin and bones could not be possible without an organ donor. Read on to see what's on the horizon for organ donation and transplant surgery. Find out how you can sign up as an organ donor and possibly become part of the next medical (miracle) breakthrough.
America Desperately Needs Organ Donors
The drastic shortage of donors is forcing scientists to look elsewhere – in some cases to other animals such as pigs – for transplant organs and tissue (Xenotransplantation). The idea of cloning humans for body parts sounds like something out of a classic science fiction movie. It's that same far-fetched scientific thinking and experimentation that brought us to the discovery of stem cells.
What human body parts can be donated for transplanting in another person? Is there an age limit or can an elderly person sign up to become an organ donor? How does a person sign up to be an organ donor?
What Parts of the Body Can Organ Donors Donate?
Kidneys and liver top the list for organ donations. A single kidney can be donated from a live donor, and so can a part of the liver because it regenerates. Bone marrow can be donated and used to save cancer patients. Bones can be donated and transplanted. Eyes, muscle, skin, intestines and blood can be donated.
It's not just single organs that can be donated and transplanted, but combination transplants are possible, too. A heart/lung transplant is one such example of a combination. Refer to the website, OrganDonor.Gov, and the page titled, "What Can Be Donated?" (No author, no date) to see all the organ donation possibilities.
New York Times contributing writer, Lawrence K. Altman, shares information on how far transplant surgery has evolved over the last fifty years in his article, "The Ultimate Gift: 50 Years of Organ Transplants" (PDF, Dec. 21, 2004). Altman writes, "Since 1982, at least 416,457 people in the United States have received new kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs, pancreases and intestines to extend their lives and relieve their discomfort, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing in Richmond, Va., which tracks transplants in this country."
Make sure all doctors concerned have your organ donor information. Hospital medical staff follow a rigid protocol for recovering organs, so it's absolutely imperative that your intent is made clear well beforehand. Did you know that one organ and tissue donor can improve as many as 50 lives?
Here are several facts about organ donation (In italics) followed by the true facts:
A person with significant health problems can't be an organ/tissue donor. Fact: Only a doctor can decide what organs or parts of the body are healthy enough to use after death. This is true in spite of any ailments the person might have had.
An elderly person is too old to be a donor. Fact: There is no cut-off age for donating organs. In fact, elderly persons in their 70s and 80s have made successful donors.
The donor's family pays for the harvesting surgery. Fact: Charges come from efforts to keep the patient (donor) alive. After the person is pronounced dead, there is no charge for surgically removing donated organs/tissues.
The person who doesn't want to donate "everything" has no choice in the matter. Fact: The donor can specify on the donor card what he does not want to donate, and it will not be harvested.
In the same article, scroll to the bottom to read why you should consider organ donation: "By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. And many families say that knowing their loved one helped save other lives helped them cope with their loss."
How and Where Does a Person Sign Up to Be An Organ Donor?
Organ and tissue transplantation has progressed beyond scientific expectation, but the lack of donors means too many people die waiting for a donor. It only takes a few minutes to register to become an organ and tissue donor. Where can a person sign up to be an organ donor?
Here are three suggested places to sign up for organ donation:
The website OrganDonor.Gov has a page titled, "State Organ and Tissue Donor Registries" where a person interested can refer to his state registry for instructions. The site also offers the choice of printing and signing an organ donor card. (You still need to join a state registry or designate your decision on your driver's license.)
Driver's license applicants and renewal applicants can choose to become a donor and have it designated on the license.
The website Donate Life America features access to individual state laws on organ donation and provides a way to sign up.
Make your decision for organ donation known to others. Tell family members of your wishes, a caregiver or a close friend. Speaking up now might save precious time later. Carry your organ donor card when you're away from home; every second counts if organs are to be safely harvested and transplanted. Document your request in your living will and other advance directives. These legal documents can speak for you in the event of accident or illness.
Recent advancements in transplant techniques and drug research have made hand transplants and face transplants a promising reality, though there is still much work to be done in those areas. The concept of whole limb transplants is also on the horizon. Don't wait until it's too late, sign up now for organ and tissue donation, and be a part of something really big. Know that your effort will make a difference to as many as 50 people. Those person who become organ and tissue recipients will no doubt be very grateful for your choice.