Organ and Body Donation

How to donate your organs, tissue and your body after your death

Last updated: 10 November 2016

You have the opportunity to donate your organs, tissue or body after you die. There are many ways that your donation can benefit others. This includes:

  • Donating to help the education of future medical practitioners
  • Research that can lead to the prevention of disease
  • Transplanting your organs and tissue into another person to save their life or improve life-limiting conditions

Organ and tissue donation for transplant

Although there are many reasons to donate organs, perhaps the greatest reason is the possibility of enhancing or even saving someone else’s life. Thousands of people have their lives improved or saved by the organ donations made by US citizens each year.

For your organs and tissue to be viable for a donation, you have to die in quite specific circumstances. Most commonly, this is when something called ‘brain death’ has happened. The brain can no longer function and the patient is only able to be kept alive via life support.

According to government statistics, only three in 1,000 people die in a way that allows organ donation. This makes it all the more important that people who do want to donate their organs make their wishes known by signing the organ donor registry.

Physicians will only begin to inquire if the patient is an organ donor once the brain death has been confirmed and there is definitely no way of saving them. The hospital will contact the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) to confirm whether or not the person has registered as an organ donor. If they have not, the next of kin will be asked to authorize the donation.

How to become an organ donor

You can register to become an organ donor after you die by signing the organ donor registry. You can do this online via the official government organ donor website, or at your local Motor Vehicle Department. You will need personal identification information and the number of your driver’s license or photo ID.

Signing this register will record your wish to be an organ donor after you die. You should, however, also tell your friends and family, so that they can support your wishes when the time comes.

What organs can be donated after death?

Each person that joins the organ donation register can affect the lives of many people, as one donor can donate many different organs and tissues. These include kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, corneas, bone and skin, to name but a few.

Body donation

After you die, you may also be able to donate your body to science. This means that your body may be used to educate trainee doctors, or will help medical research.

You can register your wishes to donate your body by contacting a medical facility near you, such as a university-affiliated medical school. This will depend on what body donation programs are available in your state.

The medical facility will provide a free cremation when their work is done. Usually they will scatter the ashes or return them to your family. However, be aware that it may take 12 months or longer before this happens, depending on what your body is used for.

Also be aware that you cannot specify how exactly you want your body to be used, and most body donation programs will not accept your body if you have donated organs. In some cases programs will not accept a body donation if you have had certain illnesses or are very obese.

Be sure to inform your loved ones and family physician if you do sign up for any body donation program. This way they will be able to support your wishes and won’t be shocked by your decision when the time comes.