Trusts and Estates

Organ and Body Donation

The ranks of patients on organ waiting lists stand at over 100,000, and medical research is an ever-growing field. More people are also changing views of death and organ or body donation as well. Learn more about how medicine, science and law cross paths with your plans.

There are many options for donation, and you can choose how you want to help others. Options for donation include:

  • Organs (before and after death)
  • Tissue (including skin, bone, corneas, heart valves, blood vessels and tendons)
  • Bone marrow (before and after death)
  • Your entire body, for medical research

Donations Are Priceless

Donations of human organs or a body are true gifts. Selling or buying human organs or bodies is illegal. Penalties for breaking the law include fines and jail time.

There's a national organ procurement system for matching donations and patients. The US Department of Health and Human Services contracts with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) to manage donations and transplants. Patients receive donated organs based on many factors, including:

  • Location of the donor and donee
  • Severity of illness
  • Physical characteristics, like blood type, size and genetic makeup

Factors like wealth or celebrity status don't count in deciding the best recipient for a donated organ.

Becoming a Donor

There are two main ways to register to be an organ donor:

  • Use your state's donor registry – it's likely your state has an online registration option
  • Enroll as a donor when you get or renew your driver's license. Make sure your donor status is marked on your license

It's best to make advance plans if you want to make a whole body donation for medical research. Contact medical research centers, such as a university or medical school in your area for details on donation programs.

If you want to donate organs and other body parts at the time of your death, you probably won't be eligible to donate what's left to a medical research facility, as their need is for whole bodies.

Share Your Plan with Family

Sharing your plan and wishes for organ or body donation with your family is important. When your family knows your plan, they're spared possible shock when faced with losing you, and it helps them support your plan. In some states, a family member who opposes an organ or body donation after a loved one's death can override donor registry.

It's a good idea to include your wishes to become an organ or body donor in your health care directive/proxy. The person you choose as your health care agent probably knows you very well, and it's a good idea to talk about your views on certain care issues, such as life support or extraordinary care. Make sure you cover the subject of donation plans with your agent.

Donation and Estate Planning

Donation has a place in any adult's estate plan, no matter your views or age. It's all about making sure you have a say in your final plans.

Donation and Final Expenses

Donors and their families don't face costs for making a donation. However, your estate or family do have to pay final bills for a funeral, burial or cremation. Most donations don't conflict with traditional funerals, visitation and viewings.

Check with the research program when making a body donation for final arrangements for donors. Some programs arrange cremation and take directions for scattering ashes or returning them to your family. Make alternate plans in case a program can't accept your donation at the time of your death.

Donations and Your Will

Your will isn't the best way to arrange for organ or body donation. Why not? Wills are usually discovered and read after someone dies, and time can matter when it comes to donation. The chance to donate may be missed.

While there's no guarantee that someone will be a successful donor, advance planning is the best way to try to give the ultimate gift of donation to one or more people with true need.

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