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Perhaps you know someone whose life has dramatically benefited from organ or tissue transplantation, or you may even know someone who's waiting for a transplant. Transplantation is one of the most remarkable success stories in the history of medicine. In most cases, it's the only hope for thousands of people suffering from organ failure, or in desperate need of corneas, skin, bone or other tissue. Tragically, the need for donated organs and tissues continues to outpace the supply. Right now, thousands of Americans could be helped if enough organs and tissue were available. Organ and tissue donation provides each of us with a special opportunity to help others. You can save lives by making the decision to be an organ and tissue donor.

Sharing your decision to be an organ and tissue donor with your family is as important as making the decision itself. At the time of your death, your family will be asked about donation. Sharing your decision with your family now, will help them carry out your decision later. Doing this will prevent confusion or uncertainty about your wishes. Carrying out your wish to save other lives can provide your family with great comfort in their time of grief.

Who can become a donor?

Everyone should consider himself or herself as a potential organ and tissue donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

What organs and tissues can I donate?

Needed organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissue that can be donated to help others includes the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.

Will my decision to become an organ and tissue donor affect the quality of my medical care?

No. Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. The doctors working to save your life are entirely different from the medical team that would be involved in recovering your organs and tissues.

Will donation disfigure my body? Can there be an open casket funeral?

Donation neither disfigures the body nor changes the way it looks in a casket.

Are there any costs to my family for donation?

No. Donation costs nothing to the donor's family or estate. The donor's family is responsible for hospital charges not involved with the donation, and the donor's funeral arrangements.

Does my religion approve of donation?

All major religions approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it a gift, an act of charity.

What will happen to my donated organs and tissues?

The patients who will receive your organs and tissues will be chosen based upon many factors, such as blood type and medical matching. A national system is in place to ensure the fair distribution of organs in the United States. The buying and selling of organs is against the law.

How to share your decision

Here are some ideas to help you explain your decision to your loved ones. Remember, it's important for your family to support your commitment.

  • Begin by telling your family that they are an important part of a personal decision that you want to share with them today.

  • Tell them why you want to be a donor. Explain that organ and tissue donation is consistent with your life values and feels like the right thing for you to do.

  • Tell them how one person can really make a difference. Explain how one donor can potentially help more than 50 other people. Donation can dramatically improve--even save--the lives of those suffering from organ failure, bone defect, burns or blindness.

  • Explain that the more donors there are, the more lives can be saved. People of all ages, races and economic backgrounds are waiting for organ and tissue transplants. The number of Americans specifically awaiting life-saving organs is rapidly approaching 40,000, while hundreds of thousands more could benefit from tissue transplants. Tragically, thousands of these people die each year from a lack of donors.

  • Have your family be a witness to your decision. If you have already signed a donor card or indicated your decision on your driver's license, show it to them. If not, have them sign your donor card as your witness.

By completing the donor card below in the presence of your family and having them sign as witnesses, you'll know they pledge their support to see that your wishes are carried out. The donor card is your commitment to share life and will serve as a reminder to your family and medical staff. Remember to carry it in your wallet or purse at all times.

My Commitment to Share Life
Uniform Donor Card
I,_________________________, have spoken to my family about organ and tissue donation. The following people have witnessed my commitment to be a donor.
I wish to donate the following:
_any needed organs and tissue _only the following organs and tissue:____________________
Donor signature___________________Date____________
Witness_________________________________________
Witness_________________________________________