Frequently Asked Questions

Am I too old or unhealthy to donate?

No. Anyone can be considered for donation. Many people erroneously believe they cannot donate due to a past medical history or age. At the time of death, donation program professionals will review your medical and behavioral history to determine if you are a candidate for donation. There is such a critical need for organs currently in the U.S., the criteria for donation are changing constantly. In most cases, anyone can be a donor. To date, the oldest donor was 101 years old.

Will my decision to be a donor affect my medical care if I am injured or sick and admitted to the hospital?

No. By law, the doctors who work to save your life are not the same professionals who are involved in transplantation and organ donation. 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, eye and tissue donor. The doctors treating you are not involved with transplant programs or possible recipients. In addition, doctors and hospital staff do not have access to the Virginia Donor Registry. Only donor program personnel can access the Virginia Donor Registry – not the medical professionals taking care of you.

If I register to be a donor, how can I be sure that I’ll really be dead when organs and tissues are recovered?

Organ donation is only accepted following the declaration of death by a doctor who is not involved in transplantation. In order to donate organs, a patient must be declared brain dead, or in cases where a family requests withdrawal of ventilator support, declared dead by cardiac criteria. Brain death is the complete and irreversible loss of all brain function, including the brain stem and therefore, the patient has no chance of recovery.

To be a legal determination, Virginia Code requires that a licensed medical professional makes this declaration based on clinical exams and nationally accepted brain death testing methods.

The first and foremost job of 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 and death has been declared that organ, tissue and eye donation would even be considered

Do famous or wealthy people get transplants quicker?

No. The organ allocation and distribution system is blind to wealth or social status. A national computerized matching system is used to place available organs with potential recipients. This current system is administered by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), located in Richmond, Virginia.

National policies govern the sharing of organs in the U.S. to ensure all patients fair and equal access to transplantation. The length of time it takes to receive a transplant is influenced by a variety of factors including location, severity of illness, physical characteristics (blood type, weight, genetic typing, and size) and length of time on the waiting list. Factors such as income or celebrity status are never considered when determining who receives an organ.

Is donation against my religion?

All major religions support organ, eye and tissue donation and consider donation the greatest gift one can give. Transplantation is consistent with the life preserving traditions of these faiths. The donation of life is an act of human kindness in keeping with religious teachings.

Are TV and movie stories about donation true?

In general, the TV and movie industry sensationalize and distort information about donation and transplantation. Remember these mediums are designed to entertain audiences and are not the best way to learn the facts about any particular subject.

If there is not an organ match when I die, can the surgeon take my organs and store them until they find a match?

No. If a match cannot be found for your organs, then they are not removed from your body. Your internal organs can only be outside of the body for a short amount of time, and there is no way to preserve them to be used later.

Is there a black market for organ donation? Can I get paid for my organs?

There is no evidence of such activity ever occurring in the United States. According to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, it is illegal to buy or sell human organs in the U.S. Violators are subject to fines and imprisonment. In addition, a national governing body reviews every organ donation and transplant. Strict regulations prevent any type of “black market” existence in the United States, and the World Health Organization, among others, has strongly condemned such practices abroad.

If I donate my entire body to science, can I still be an organ, eye and tissue donor?

Not at this time. Currently, a body that is donated for scientific research under the Virginia State Anatomical Program cannot be used for organ, eye and tissue donation, except in the case of corneas. However, you should still register your decision to be an organ, tissue and eye donor in the Virginia Donor Registry in case your body is not accepted in the state’s anatomical program. Your family can also ask the recovery agency at the time of donation if there may be other whole body donation options after organ, eye and tissue donation has occurred. Organizations that offer those kinds of services must be approved by Donate Life Virginia or their activity is illegal in the Commonwealth.

What is the difference between living and deceased donations?

A living donor may be a blood relative, spouse or friend. Some living donors are not related to or known by the recipient, but donate purely from selfless motives. This type of donation is called anonymous or non-directed donation.

Kidneys and parts of livers, lungs, intestines and pancreata can be donated from one living person to another. Medical personnel at transplant centers determine who is a candidate for living donation.

Deceased donation occurs when an organ is recovered from a patient that has died and has been registered as a donor or has been authorized by his family to donate.