Polls suggest that most Americans believe in organ donation, but only a minority are signed up to be donors. Meanwhile, demand for organ donations is soaring. Here are some common questions and answers about organ donation.
Q: What organs can be donated?
A: Kidneys, heart, liver, lungs and pancreas can all be removed and used to help living patients. Some tissues, including corneas, skin, bone, heart valves and connective blood vessels can also be used.
Q: Could I be too old to donate my organs?
A: Most people of any age can be considered for donation. Some age guidelines exist for organ donation, but age is not a factor in tissue and bone donation.
Q: How do I sign up to be a donor?
A: In most states, the Department of Motor Vehicles offer drivers the chance to sign up when getting their licenses. It's also possible to indicate your wish to be an organ donor in a living will. In addition to your own consent, hospitals are required to ask next of kin for permission to remove the organs of a patient at the time of impending death, so it may be important to discuss with friends and family so they know your wishes.
Q: How do people decide when to take my organs?
A: More than 98 percent of organ donations are taken at the time of so-called "brain death." This describes one of two situations: when a person has an irreversible, catastrophic brain injury which causes all brain activity to permanently stop or when all cardiopulmonary function and brain function is stopped.
A small percentage of organs are taken under a second protocol known as "non-heart-beating." This is when it is determined that a person's health cannot be restored, life support is removed and the heart stops beating for a designated period of time (usually five minutes).
Q: Is it possible to sell organs or tissues?
A: No, the National Organ Transplant Act prohibits the sale of human organs and tissues.
Q: Can living people donate organs?
A: Under special circumstances, family members may donate a kidney to another member of their immediate family. Living people can also donate bone marrow and certain parts of the pancreas.
Sources: United Network for Organ Sharing and the Living Bank.