Organ Donation Myths, Debunked

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Microscope showing FACT as a MYTH

Over 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ donation, and many may never receive the call for their second chance at life.

Although it can be difficult to think about what’s going to happen to your body after you die – let alone donating your organs and tissues – having such a plan could allow you to impact hundreds of lives.

A lot of misconceptions about the organ donation process exist out there. We’ve decided to sort out the facts from fiction, so you can make the most informed decision.

Myths about organ and tissue donation

These are the top seven myths about organ and tissue donation – busted. 

Myth: If I’m in an accident and the hospital knows that I’m designated as a donor, the doctors and staff won't try to save my life.

Fact: This is the number one reason people don’t put “organ donor” on their driver’s license. In actuality, hospital staff will do everything they possibly can to save your life. 

According to the Gift of Life Donor Program, “An individual must be in a hospital, on a ventilator and pronounced brain dead in order to donate organs. Gift of Life Donor Program is not notified until life-saving efforts have failed. The transplant team is not notified by Gift of Life until permission has been given by the deceased’s family.”

Myth: My family will be charged if I donate my organs.

Fact: The organ donor's family is never charged for donating. The family is charged for the final efforts to save your life, but the costs for organ removal go to the transplant recipient.

Myth: A history of medical illness will prevent me from becoming an organ donor.

Fact: Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. Doctors evaluate each potential donor on a case-by-case basis to ensure the safety of transplant. Despite former diseases, certain organs may be healthy and a match for transplant. For instance, those who have undergone cancer may still be able to donate their eyes. Advances in medicine continue to allow more and more people to be donors. 

Myth: I’m too old to be a donor.

Fact: There is no set age limit for organ and tissue donation. Like the illness myth, the decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, and doctors evaluate each potential donor on a case-by-case basis. 

Myth: If I’m an organ donor, I can’t donate my body to science for research.

Fact: The simple answer is yes, you can donate your body to science after organ donation. Organ donation for transplant takes first priority due to its life-saving nature. And if for some reason you are not a good candidate for organ donation, you will most likely be a great one for whole body donation for medical research.

Myth: Organ donation is against my religion.

Fact: All major religions not only support organ donation as an individual right, but encourage it as an act of generosity and compassion. This includes Roman Catholicism, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant faiths.

Myth: An open-casket funeral isn't an option for people who have donated organs.

Fact: Organ and tissue donation doesn't interfere with having an open-casket funeral. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care and respect. Because the donor is clothed and lying on his or her back in the casket, no one can see any difference.

A couple more facts for you

  1. One organ donor can impact the lives of up to eight transplant recipients. Organs that can be donated from one donor include heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs and intestines.
  2. One tissue donor can help hundreds of people. Cornea donors give the gift of sight to two people. Skin donors help burn victims recover from traumatic injuries. Bone, heart valve and tendon donors help many people return to health. 

Ready to help? The best way to support organ and tissue donation is to check off “organ donor” on your driver’s license and discuss the decision with your family. 

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The Penn Medicine Transplant blog features short postings with news about the transplant program at Penn Medicine, notices about upcoming events and health information. Subscribe to the blog and stay connected with Penn's Transplant Program!

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