How to Donate Your Organs After Death

Donated organs and tissues are in great demand, as medical technology has made successful organ and tissue transplants cheaper, easier, and safer. Among the organs and tissues now commonly being transplanted are:

  • corneas
  • hearts
  • livers
  • kidneys
  • bone and bone marrow
  • tendons, ligaments, connective tissue
  • skin
  • pancreas, and
  • lungs

Tissues and corneas can be taken from almost anyone - and are often used for research and study rather than transplants. However, there are often problems with donating major organs such as hearts and livers. For example, while there are tens of thousands of people now on waiting lists to receive kidneys alone, only about 1% of all people who die are suitable kidney donors.

To authorize organ donation, it's a good idea to obtain a donor card and carry it with you at all times. In most states, you can use your driver's license for this purpose; the motor vehicles department will give you a card to carry and perhaps a sticker to place on the front of your license.

In addition, a health care directive or a separate Authorization to Donate Organs would be good places to state your wishes regarding organ donation. An increasing number of states are providing a place on their official health care directive forms for such instructions, allowing you to specify not only the organs, tissues, or body parts that you want to donate but also the purposes for which your donation may be used, for example, transplant, therapy, research, or education.

Organ, tissue, or body donations must be carried out immediately after death, so if you want to be a donor, you should make arrangements in advance and discuss your plans and wishes with those closest to you - especially your health care agent, if you have made an advance directive, power of attorney, or health care proxy document that names one.

Even if you have expressed a desire to donate your organs, an objection from close family members could defeat your intentions. The best safeguard is to put your wishes in writing and be sure family and friends know what they are.

The law on organ procurement for hospitals in Washington state requires:

  • Any adult, emancipated minor, or minor aged 15 or older may donate all or part of his or her body for transplantation, therapy, research, or education. Donations may be rescinded or revoked in some circumstances.
  • Family consent is not needed if an adult has expressed the desire to be an organ or tissue donor upon death.
  • Hospitals and medical personnel are required to ask any deceased individual’s next of kin, at or near the time of death, whether the deceased is an organ donor.
  • Hospitals must enter into agreements or affiliations with organ procurement organizations to coordinate the procurement and use of anatomical gifts.