The Organ Donation Process

Having trouble deciding whether you should register as an organ donor or not? Lets lay down the facts to help you better understand how the entire process of organ donation works, so that you may make an informed decision.

Roughly 145 Million people are registered organ donors. Now, despite the fact that many people register to become organ donors in hopes of potentially saving one life or multiple lives, in reality only about 3 in 1000 people can actually become organ donors upon their demise. Why is that you wonder? This is because of the certain criteria that both the donors and recipients must meet to be possible matches for one another. Also to be considered, is the manner in which a person passes which would determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

The Organ Donation Process

Should a serious accident or illness befall you and you are rushed to the hospital, a team of medical staff will do their absolute best to try and save you. Contrary to the popular myth, if a hospital sees that you are a donor, it does not mean that they won’t try to save your life and immediately begin the process of testing for possible organ donation. It is only when you are deemed brain dead, with zero brain activity and no ability to breathe on your own, can the hospital then confirm time of death and the possibility of organ donation begins. At this point, the hospital notifies the nearest Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) of the deceased to confirm if they were a potential donor. If they were a registered donor, a representative from the OPO is sent to the hospital immediately. If there is no registration of the deceased as a donor, then the OPO representative will ask the next of kin for authorization. After authorization, the deceased will receive a medical evaluation as well as study the complete medical and social history of the family. This information will determine if the deceased is actually eligible to be an organ donor.

Another requirement to be possibly considered as an organ donor is the environment in which you die. When you die in a hospital, that is a controlled environment. You are being monitored by the staff, they know exactly what is going on with you, and they are able to resuscitate you. Your death in this controlled environment would keep you in consideration as an
organ donor, so long as the requirements listed in the previous paragraph are also met. If you were to die in an uncontrolled environment, a non-hospital setting, for example in the street or in your home, then you would most likely not be considered to be a possible organ donation. This is because EMT’s cannot exactly determine time of death and they cannot immediately confirm the state of your organs.

If you are deemed eligible, the OPO representative then contacts the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network (OPTN), a unified transplant network, and the search for a potential recipient or recipients begins. The OPTN generates a list of potential recipients ranked by specific factors:

• Blood Type;
• Body Size;
• Severity of Patient’s Condition;
• Distance between the Donor and the Patient;
• Patient’s Waiting Time; and
• Patient’s Availability; Can the patient be contacted in time? Are they healthy enough to receive the organ transplant? Is there any other reason why they’re not be able to receive it?

While the search for a recipient is ongoing, the deceased donor’s organs are maintained on artificial support. Machines are used to keep blood flowing to the organs, while medical staff and the OPO representative closely and carefully monitor it. The amount of time each organ can survive outside of the body varies.

• Heart (4-6 hours)
• Lungs (4-6 hours)
• Liver (8-12 hours)
• Intestines (8-16 hours)
• Pancreas (12-18 hours)
• Kidney (24-36 hours)

Once a potential recipient or recipients are found, their Transplant Surgeons are notified and determine if their patient is medically suitable for the transplant. The transplant surgical team will then replace the medical team to begin the transfer process. Just before the organ is removed from the organs body, each organ is flushed free of blood with a specially prepared ice-cold preservation solution that contains electrolytes and nutrients. The surgical team then places each
organ in it’s own sterile container, that is packaged with wet ice and is then transported to it’s intended recipient as quickly as possible. Most organs go to the patients that are within the area that it was recovered in, otherwise the others are shared with patients in other regions of the country. Each organ has a different time limit as to how long it can still be viable once it has left the body.

Typically, the time between death and donation is 12 to 36 hours. Throughout this entire process, the OPO representative is available to the family of the donor for bereavement counseling, to aide with the funeral preparations to ensure no delays are caused because of the organ transplant, and to provide continuous overall support to the donor’s family. Something to
also take into account, is that being an organ donor will not affect the family of the deceased request of an open casket funeral.

For more information about being a Deceased Organ Donor or a Living Organ Donor or to register to become an organ donor visit,

By Hannah Magsumbol, Legal Assistant
Edited by Jack E. Stephens, J.D. LLM.
Stephens Law Group