Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  HOW CAN I BECOME AN ORGAN AND TISSUE DONOR?
A:  You can sign up online now on the Donate Life Registry.  Click on the link on the bottom left to access the Donate Life Tennessee Registry, or visit www.DonateLifeVirginia.org for Virginia or www.DonateLifeGA.org for Georgia.  You can indicate your wishes at the DMV on the application to apply for or renew your driver’s license or ID card.  Your registration is legal consent to donate your organs, eyes and tissues (family members cannot override your decision).  Your donor registration will automatically be transferred into the state Donor Registry through the DMV.  IMPORTANT:  EVERY time you renew your license or ID you must check “yes” for donation or your name will automatically be removed from the Donor Registry.  Your personal information is kept secure and confidential.  It is accessible only to authorized organ and tissue recovery personnel – hospitals do not have access to the Donor Registry.

Q: WHY SHOULD SOMEONE CONSIDER ORGAN DONATION?
A: There is a severe shortage of organ donations in the Untied States, and here in Tennessee. Nationally 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant. Right now, over 116,00 people are on the waiting list, more than a third of them will die before an organ can be found. The numbers are growing. The waiting list is increasing at a rate of 4,000 people a month. Another name is added every 10 minutes. In the TDS area, more than 2,800 people are on the waiting list, yet in 2016 only 268 people donated one or more organs up on death, another 66 were living donors.  (OPTN data July 24. 2017)

Q: IF I SIGN UP, WILL EVERYTHING BE DONE TO SAVE MY LIFE?
A: Yes, absolutely.  If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, you will receive the same level of care regardless of whether or not you have indicated your wish to be an organ and tissue donor.  The doctors treating you are not involved with transplant programs or possible recipients.  This fact is both law and ethical medical practice.  The first and foremost job of the healthcare professionals at any hospital is to do everything they can to try and save your life. It is only after all of these efforts have been exhausted that organ and tissue donation is considered.

In brain death cases, a doctor performs numerous tests to ensure the patient’s brain has died and has NO CHANCE of recovery.   Brain death occurs in patients who have suffered severe injury to the brain. As a result of the injury, the brain swells and obstructs its own blood supply, causing brain tissue to die and complete and irreversible loss of brain function – brain death.

Q: WHY, AND FOR HOW LONG MUST THE VENTILATOR BE KEPT ON AFTER DECLARATION OF DEATH?

A: The ventilator is needed to provide oxygen to the vital organs, and will be kept on until surgery can be arranged and performed.  Without oxygen, the organs would die, and not be viable for transplant.

Q: WHAT IS THE MAXIMUM TIME SPAN BETWEEN RECOVERING ORGANS/TISSUES AND TRANSPLANTATION?
A: The approximate maximum time for the following organs/tissues is:  Heart-lung (4-6 hours); Lung (4-6 hours); Heart (4-6 hours); Liver (24 hours); Pancreas (24 hours); Kidney (72 hours); Corneas (14 days); Bone (5 years); Skin (5 years); Heart valves (10 years).

Q: WHO GIVES CONSENT TO DONATE?
A: You give consent to donate your organs and tissues by signing up when you renew your driver’s license (you must sign up every time) or by registering online on your state registry (TN:  www.DonateLifeTN.org, VA:  www.DonateLifeVirginia.org, or GA:  www.DonateLifeGA.org). Please tell your family about your decision to donate life. At the time of your death your legal next-of-kin will be consulted regarding donation. They cannot override your documented decision, but if you don’t register, they will have to decide for you.  Your discussion with your family today will help them to honor your wishes to give the gift of life.

Q:  IF YOU ARE A CELEBRITY OR ARE WEALTHY, WILL YOU GET A TRANSPLANT SOONER?
A:  Wealth and celebrity status DO NOT give you priority.  Organs are placed based on strict medical criteria.  The allocation system is based on a national database maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), in Richmond, Virginia.  UNOS is a national organization that matches donors with recipients.  When a donor becomes available, the computer prioritizes who should be given the organ based on blood and tissue match-ups, geographic proximity, medical urgency and time on the waiting list.  It is a fair and equitable system.  The only thing lacking is donors.  That’s why it is so important to register your donation decision and talk to your family about donating life.

Q: WHAT IS THE “REQUIRED REQUEST” LEGISLATION?
A: The law (Omnibus Reconciliation Act passed in l986) was implemented due to the growing list of transplant candidates, and the tremendous shortage of organs. To meet this need, the law states that any hospital that receives government funding is required to notify their local organ recovery agency upon the death of a patient to ensure families are given the option of donation.

Q: HOW DO MAJOR RELIGIOUS GROUPS FEEL ABOUT ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION?
A: Most major religions in the United States either support or permit organ donation. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths support donation as an act of human benevolence in keeping with religious doctrine. They believe that this is essentially a gift of life to another person. Meanwhile, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam believe that organ donation is a matter of individual conscience. If you have questions in this regard, we encourage you to consult with your religious leader.  No major religion opposes organ donation.

Q: IS AN OPEN CASKET FUNERAL POSSIBLE AFTER ORGANS AND/OR TISSUES ARE REMOVED?
A: In most cases, organ, tissue and eye donation does not interfere with an open-casket viewing. Before moving forward with a procedure we provide information to families and answer their questions to ensure we fully understand their wishes. The recovery of organs, tissues and eyes is preformed by qualified surgeons and recovery staff in a sterile environment. As in any other surgical procedure, the body is treated with the utmost respect and care.  

Q: WILL THE FUNERAL BE DELAYED?
A: The time between death and donation is 12 to 36 hours for most organs and tissues. Surgery is scheduled as soon as possible. After donation, the body is released to the funeral home.

Q: DO DONOR FAMILIES HAVE TO PAY COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DONATION?
A: No. All costs related to organ and/or tissue donations will be covered by the organ and tissue donor program. Donor families are not financially responsible for any aspect of the donation process. However, the family is responsible for the hospital expenses that were incurred prior to death and funeral arrangements and costs remain the responsibility of the relatives or persons in charge of the estate.

Q: HOW ARE RECIPIENTS CHOSEN?
A: Recipients are matched with available organs based on strict criteria that include: medical urgency, time on the waiting list, geographic proximity, and blood and tissue type. A national waiting list of recipients is maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit service under contract with the federal government, located in Richmond, Virginia. UNOS was established under the National Organ Transplant Act of l984 and serves transplant centers, physicians, and donor organizations nationwide.

Q: CAN YOU BUY AND SELL ORGANS?
A: No. It is a crime to buy or sell organs under state law and the National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507). Anyone convicted of violating this law is subject to a maximum fine of $50,000, and/or a maximum of five years imprisonment. Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) such as Tennessee Donor Services, which coordinate all activities associated with donation, (including distribution), are nonprofit agencies certified, and monitored by the U.S. government’s Health Care Financing Administration.  By law, all organs recovered for transplant from a deceased donor 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 the system.  The intent of the law is to ensure equitable access to donor organs without any group or person having an unfair advantage.

Q: WHAT PARTS OF THE BODY CAN BE RECOVERED FOR TRANSPLANTATION?
A: Vital organs for transplantation (8 of them) include the heart, liver, pancreas, intestine, 2 kidneys, and 2 lungs. Also, tissues can be recovered, including corneas (to help blind people see), bone (to help those who might otherwise face amputation), skin (to help burn patients heal), heart valves (many times used for newborns with heart problems), tendons and veins.

Q: WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO BE A DONOR?
A: Anyone is eligible, from newborns through senior citizens. Nearly one in 10 deceased donors is age 65 or over.  Everyone who wants to be a donor should sign up on the Donate Life Registry in TN at www.DonateLifeTN.org, in VA at www.DonateLifeVirginia.org, or in GA at www.DonateLifeGA.org, or through the DMV when you apply for or renew your drivers license. Transplant coordinators along with transplant surgeons evaluate each potential donor, and the viability of each organ. They do a thorough evaluation of a donor’s social and medical history as well as blood tests. But, upfront, everyone is a potential donor, and is encouraged to sign up.