Right now, there are more than 120,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. Today, 19 of them will die waiting—nearly one-quarter of the number who will successfully receive transplants—because there aren’t enough organs for transplant to meet the need. There’s only around one donor for every ten patients. Donors and patients have to be matched in blood type and body size, as well as more pragmatic considerations like how fast the organ can be delivered to the hospital where the transplant surgery will take place.
Some people are reluctant to enroll as donors because they don’t have a clear understanding of how organ donation works. For example, some people think that donors get worse treatment at hospitals. They fear that the hospital will not try to save them, or will rush to declare them dead. In fact, hospital staff members don’t take into account whether someone is a donor during treatment; in addition, declaring someone dead is more involved, with more rigorous testing done, when the patient is planning to donate organs or tissue. This testing, and the donation itself, are not paid for by donors or their families. Modern donated organ and tissue recovery techniques mean it’s even possible for someone to have an open-casket funeral after donated parts are removed.
Another big concern is eligibility. People who aren’t in perfect health, or who are old, often fear that they would not be accepted. Age, however, is no obstacle—there’s no maximum age to donate, and organs and tissues are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, any transplantable part that is in working order on the patient’s death can be transplanted, regardless of the donor’s age or overall health. Even people with medical conditions affecting the heart, lung, kidneys, liver, skin, or some other part may still have perfectly healthy organs or tissue elsewhere that can be used.
Fortunately, it’s easy to help alleviate the shortage. By some estimates, each person willing to donate organs or tissue can save as many as 50 lives. You can arrange to become a posthumous donor by registering in advance through the transplant registry where you live or, in many U.S. states, through the DMV. If you’re not registered, a hospital is required to get consent of next-of-kin, and many hospitals will even if you are, so make sure your wishes are in writing.