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Organ and Tissue Donation


Today in the United States, there are more than 115,000 men, women and children on an organ transplant waiting list. Nearly 9,000 are waiting in New York State, with almost 600 from our region alone. Someone is added to the national waiting list every ten minutes and, sadly, 20 people die each day before an organ becomes available. Thousands more are in need of cornea transplants to restore vision or donated tissue to heal wounds, reduce pain and/or improve mobility.


Organ and tissue donors are heroes who pass life on through the gifts of organ and tissue donation. Organ donation offers hope to others whose lives can be saved or enhanced through transplantation. At the same time, donor families find comfort knowing their loved one was able to help others.  


Organ, eye and tissue donation is an end-of-life option that everyone should decide upon. Making your decision now about donation means your family won’t be burdened with having to make it for you later.  It only takes a few minutes to enroll online in the New York State Donate Life Registry. Regardless of whether you chose to register as a donor or not, telling your family what your wishes are will give them peace of mind.


Here are answers to common questions about donation that can help you make an informed decision about giving the gift of life and registering as a donor.

Q: Who can donate?

A: People of all ages — from the very young to senior citizens — have passed life on through organ and tissue donation.  Don’t assume your past or current health conditions wouldn’t allow you to give the gift of life. For example, a donor who has Hepatitis C could donate organs to a patient who also has Hepatitis C.  Also, not being able to donate blood doesn’t mean you can’t be an organ or tissue donor. The physical and medical condition of the donor at the time of death will determine what organs and tissue can be donated.

Q: Will doctors and nurses still try to save my life even if I’m a registered donor?

A: Doctors and nurses have a single mission: to save your life. Organ and tissue donation only becomes an option after all possible life-saving measures have failed and death has been declared, or is imminent. The doctors involved in saving your life are entirely different from the medical teams involved in recovering organs and tissues.

Q: When I die, how will anyone know I’m a registered donor?

A: Hospitals contact organ and tissue agencies when a patient has died or death is imminent and they have potential to be a donor. Only representatives from those agencies have access to the New York State Donate Life Registry and will search for your registration. If you are in the state’s donor registry, or another legal document has been located (such as a health care proxy or Last Will and Testament) that indicates your consent to donate, your family or legal next of kin will be notified.

Q: Will organ and tissue donation disfigure my body?

A:  Organs and tissues are recovered using standard surgical techniques. Great care is taken to respect the body and to care for the donated organs and tissues. It is still possible to have an open casket funeral.

Q: Is there a financial cost associated with donating organs and tissue?

A: No. The donor’s family does not pay for the cost of organ donation. Donation costs nothing to the donor family or his/her estate. All costs related to the donation will be paid by the organ donor recovery program.

Q: Does my religion approve of donation?

A: All of the major religions support organ and tissue donation and consider it a gift - an act of charity. Contact your religious advisor if you have questions.

Q: If millions of people are registered donors, why is there still such a critical need? 

A: Organ donation is rare. Of the estimated 2.2 million people who die each year, approximately only 2 percent die in a manner that allows for the organ donation process to occur. In most cases, people who are evaluated for organ donation have been declared brain dead as a result of head injuries suffered from a car accident, stroke or a brain aneurysm. The more registered organ donors there are, the more lives that could be saved through donation.

Q: How do organs and tissues benefit others?

A: Organ transplants such as kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and small bowel restore and save lives. Tissue is needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments lost to trauma, cancer and other diseases in order to reduce pain and improve strength, mobility and independence. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal, and often mean the difference between life and death. Heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.

Q: How are transplant recipients identified?

A: Organ allocation works through a carefully managed matching process. Organs are allocated based on medical information such as blood type, body size, severity of illness, length of time on the waiting list, 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. Buying and selling organs is against the law.

Q: How do I register to be an organ donor?

A: In New York State, there are many convenient ways in which to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Regardless which method you choose, the information is sent to the New York State Donate Life Registry.

1.       Online: The easiest way to document your wish to be an organ, eye and tissue donor is to sign up online at www.donatelife.ny.gov. The online process includes the creation of a secure account (with a username and password) that will enable you to update, modify or remove your registration. Enrolling in the New York State Donate Life Registry serves as a first-person authorization for donation and is a legally-binding document.

2.       DMV: Check the “New York State Organ and Tissue Donation” box when applying for, or renewing, a Learner’s Permit, Driver’s License or Non-Driver’s ID. *, **

3.       Voter Registration Form: Check the “New York State Organ and Tissue Donation” box on the voter registration form. **

4.       New York State of Health – Health Insurance Exchange: Residents applying for or renewing health insurance benefits through the state have the opportunity to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor.  **

* You’ll receive a heart symbol on your license only if you register to be a donor through the DMV. It is not necessary to have the heart symbol to identify you as a donor. At the time of death, donation professionals check an electronic registry for a person’s enrollment status and do not look for your license.

** If you chose to register through the DMV, Voter Registration or Health Insurance Exchange, you’ll receive a confirmation of your donor registration and be provided an opportunity to specify the organs and tissues you’re consenting to donate. 

Information provided by Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.

Links for additional donation information:

Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network: www.donorrecovery.org

Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation: www.MTF.org

Lions Eye Bank of Rochester: www.lionseyebankrochester.org