Know Fact from Fiction
Organ and tissue donation is the process of recovering organs and tissues from a deceased person, and transplanting them into others in order to save and improve the lives of those in need. Up to eight lives can be saved through organ donation, sight can be restored to two people through cornea donation, and more than fifty lives can benefit from tissue donation.
In Nebraska you can become an organ, eye and tissue donor three ways:
- By signing up on the Nebraska Donor Registry online. Just go to www.DonateLifeNebraska.com and click on “Sign Up,”
- By marking “YES” to the donor question on the application at the Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for or renewing your driver’s license or state identification card, or
- By completing and mailing a paper registration card.
People who indicate their wish to be a donor on their driver’s license/ ID application are automatically entered into the Nebraska state donor registry. If you have a small red heart on your drivers’ license, that means you have given legal consent to organ, eye and tissue donation.
The Nebraska Donor Registry allows people who are at least 18 years of age to register their authorization to donate specific or all organs and tissues upon their death. Children who are at least 16 can join the registry; however, until the designated donor is 18 years old, their parents (or legal guardians) will make the final decision about organ and tissue donation at the appropriate time. There is no upper age limit to register as a donor.
You may opt out of donating specific organs and/or tissue or donating for medical research while registering online under the Donor Restrictions section.
Yes. To remove yourself from the registry you can either fill out the online form located on the registry website, or contact Nebraska Organ Recovery System at 402-733-1800.
No. First Person Legislation, passed in September 2003 in Nebraska, allows a person to make the decision regarding organ donation for himself/herself and does not require additional consent, except for minors. Minors can register as donors, but their parents or guardians will be asked to give consent for donation.
The First Person Consent law ensures that your wish to donate organs will be honored and that your donation cannot be revoked by anyone else. Even though consent from family members is no longer required, it is important to let your family members know your wishes regarding donation so they will understand and support your decision.
Registering as an organ and tissue donor does not give consent for your whole body to be donated to a medical school. Organ and tissue donation for transplant or research is not the same as whole body donation through the anatomical gift program. Anatomical gift programs are usually associated with teaching hospitals, and arrangements must be made in advance directly with the institutions. The Nebraska Anatomical Board works in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University Medical Center.
Please note: an individual usually cannot be both an organ/tissue donor and an anatomical donor, due to the organs being needed for medical research. For more information on the Nebraska Anatomical Board, please visit: www.donatemybody.org.
It is important to sign up on the donor registry. Due to the rapid and emotional nature of events surrounding sudden death, families often do not have time to check legal documents prior to being approached about donation. Without enrolling on the registry, your decision may not be known; however, if you are on the registry, your wishes will be honored.
Each year, the lives of approximately 500,000 people in the United States are saved through organ and tissue donation. One single organ and tissue donor can save and improve the lives of more than 60 people. More than 46,000 corenas were transplanted in 2012, and more than 1 million tissue transplants are performed annually.
Heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small bowel. Tissues include eyes (corneas), tendons, veins, heart valves, skin and bone.
Donated organs are transplanted to those on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) national waiting list, a system that ensures the organs are equitably distributed. Organs transplant replace organs that are severely damaged due to illness, trauma, or birth defects.
Tissue is commonly used in patients with sports-related injuries (such as knee reconstruction, torn ACLs, etc.), spinal fusions, eye surgery and skin grafts for the severely burned, or those with serious abrasions, and other exposed areas. Recovered bone has many purposes, such as use in orthopedic surgery to facilitate healing of fractures or prevent amputation, as well as in common dental procedures. Heart valves are used to replace defective valves. Tendons are used to repair torn ligaments on knees or other joints. Veins are used in cardiac by-pass surgery. Corneas can restore sight to the blind. Many tissues that cannot be used for transplant can be recovered and used in a variety of research studies to advance medical science.
First and foremost, medical professionals are life-savers. Medical care is not affected in anyway by your status as a registered donor. Every attempt is made to save your life. In fact, patients must receive the most aggressive lifesaving care in order to be potential organ donors. Organ, eye and tissue donation is only considered after a physician has pronounced a person dead.
The team of physicians that provides care to irreversibly brain-injured patients is separate and distinct from the teams who remove organs and provide care to the organ transplant recipients. Supporting this concept, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act states: “the physician who certifies death…shall not participate in the procedures for removing or transplanting…” This assures that there is no conflict of interest for the physician caring for the patient.
Buying and selling organs for the purpose of transplantation is illegal in the United States. Under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1984, human organs cannot be bought or sold, and violators are subject to fines and imprisonment. This strict regulation prevents any type of "black market" for organs in the United States. Medically speaking, illegal sales are impossible because recovered organs must be appropriately matched to recipients and distributed according to national policy established by United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
Donation should not delay or change funeral arrangements. An open casket funeral is still possible.
Yes. Poor vision is usually a disease of another part of the eye other than the cornea. Your cornea may be suitable for transplantation. If you have diabetes, retinal disease or other eye diseases, your eyes can still be valuable for research.
Yes. Anyone can sign up as a donor, regardless of medical history. Very few medical conditions would completely rule out donation. At the time of death, medical professionals will determine which organs and tissues are suitable for transplant, if you have given consent for donation.
There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for donation. The donor family pays only for medical expenses, before death and for funeral expenses.
In almost all cases resulting in organ donation, the patient has suffered a traumatic brain injury and brain death. After all lifesaving efforts have been exhausted and it is determined that the patient’s death is imminent, the patient must remain on ventilated support. The reason for this is that the heart and lungs must continue to function after the patient dies so that the transplantable organs continue to receive blood flow. In most cases, if the heart stops beating, the organs die and cannot be transplanted; however, donation after cardiac death is possible and does occur in more rare cases.
Virtually all deceased persons, regardless of cause of death, may potentially be tissue donors. Unlike organ donation, it is not necessary for heart and lung function to be maintained on a ventilator.
No. Living people can donate a kidney or part of the liver or lung. An individual interested in being a living donor, should contact the transplant center and speak with the living donor advocate.
All of the states in the continental U.S. honor individual state registries; however, there is no national registry. For information on how to become a donor in other states, go to www.donatelife.net and click on the state in question.
All matters concerning organ and tissue donation are under the jurisdiction of each state’s or country’s respective laws. While your donor registration will not serve as legally binding consent for donation outside the state, it will serve as a clear indication of your wish to donate and will be shared with your family when they are approached by the local organ recovery agency.
Organs are distributed based upon medical information like blood type, body size, and tissue type matching through a national computer network operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). It is illegal to distribute organs based on non-medical information such as wealth, citizenship, or celebrity status.
“Directed donation” of an organ to a specific individual is legal, but it must be done at the time of donation (organs may not be directed to a specified group of individuals). Directed donation is best supported by an advance directive or may be granted by next of kin at the time of donation.
Call Donate Life Nebraska at 402-559-3788 or 800-718-5433
United Network for Organ Sharing: www.unos.org
Donate Life America: www.donatelife.net