Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why Should Someone Consider Organ Donation?
A: There is a severe shortage of organ donations in the United States. Nationally, 22 people die each day waiting for a transplant. Right now, more than 119,000 people are on the waiting list, more than one-third of them will die before an organ can be found. The numbers are growing, and the waiting list is increasing at a rate of 1,000 people a month. Another name is added every 10 minutes.

Q: How Do I Become An Organ Donor?
A: In Tennessee, New Mexico and California, you can sign up when applying for or renewing your driver’s license or I.D. card, or sign up today online at Donate Life America – to ensure your wishes are honored. Your personal information will be kept secure and confidential. It will be accessible only to authorized organ and tissue recovery personnel. Please click here to sign up now.

Q: If My Loved One Is An Organ Donor, Will Everything Be Done To Save His Or Her Life?
A: Yes, absolutely.  The process of donation takes place only after physicians declare a person brain dead, using strict neurological examinations. The person’s family is then consulted regarding donation.  Brain death occurs in patients who have suffered severe injury to the brain, such as a motor vehicle accident, a gunshot wound to the head, or blow to the head. (In the U.S. about 15,000 people die such a death each year, but only 8,000 actually become organ donors). As a result of the injury, the brain swells and obstructs its own blood supply, causing brain tissue to die, and cessation of brain function. This condition is irreversible. However, the vital organs (heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestine and kidneys) can be kept viable for a few days, if supported by artificial mechanical means (i.e. a ventilator). Brain death is an established medical and legal diagnosis of death.

Q: Why, And For How Long Must The Ventilator Be Kept On After Declaration Of Death?
A: The ventilator is needed to provide oxygen to the vital organs, and will be kept on until surgery can be arranged and performed.  Without oxygen, the organs would die and not be viable for transplant.

Q: What Is The Maximum Time Span Between Recovering Organs/Tissues and Transplantation?
A: The approximate maximum time for the following organs/tissues is:  Lung (4-6 hours); Heart (4-6 hours); Liver (24 hours); Pancreas (24 hours); Kidney (72 hours); Corneas (14 days); Bone (5 years); Skin (5 years); Heart valves (10 years).

Q: Who Gives Consent To Donate?
A: You give consent by signing up on your statewide registry, which can be done online at or when you apply for your driver’s license. Once you sign up with your state registry, your donor designation grants authorization for organ and tissue recovery. Should you be in the position to donate, your next of kin will be presented with documentation of your registration and consulted regarding donation, but will not have the power to override your decision.  Your registration acts as a Donation Directive.

Q: What Is The “Required Request” Legislation?
A: The law (Omnibus Reconciliation Act passed in l986) was implemented due to the growing list of transplant candidates, and the tremendous shortage of organs. To meet this need, the law states that any hospital that receives government funding is required to give families the option of donation.

Q: Will Any Pain Be Felt During Surgery?
A: No. Since all brain activity has stopped, and the central nervous system has ceased to function, it is physically impossible to feel pain.

Q: How Do Major Religious Groups Feel About Organ And Tissue Donation?
A: Most major religions in the United States either support or permit organ donation. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths support donation as an act of human benevolence in keeping with religious doctrine. They believe that this is essentially a gift of life to another person. Meanwhile, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam believe that organ donation is a matter of individual conscience. If you have questions in this regard, we encourage you to consult with your religious leader.

Q: Is An Open Casket Funeral Possible After Organs And/or Tissues Are Removed?
A: In most cases, organ, tissue and eye donation does not interfere with an open-casket viewing. Before moving forward with a procedure we provide information to families and answer their questions to ensure we fully understand their wishes. The recovery of organs, tissues and eyes is preformed by qualified surgeons and recovery staff in a sterile environment. As in any other surgical procedure, the body is treated with the utmost respect and care.  

Q: Will The Funeral Be Delayed?
A: The time between death and donation is 12 to 36 hours for most organs and tissues. Surgery is scheduled as soon as possible. After donation, the body is released to the funeral home.

Q: Do Donor Families Have To Pay Costs Associated With The Donation?
A: No. All costs related to organ and/or tissue donations will be covered by the organ and tissue donor program. You will not be financially responsible for any aspect of the donation process. However, funeral arrangements and costs remain the responsibility of the relatives or persons in charge of the estate.

Q: How Are Recipients Chosen?
A: Recipients are matched with available organs based on strict criteria that include: medical urgency, time on the waiting list, geographic proximity, and blood and tissue type. A national waiting list of recipients is maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit service under contract with the federal government, located in Richmond, Virginia. UNOS was established under the National Organ Transplant Act of l984 and serves transplant centers, physicians, and donor organizations nationwide.

Q: Can You Buy and Sell Organs?
A: No. It is a crime to buy or sell organs under state law and the National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507). Anyone convicted of violating this law is subject to a maximum fine of $50,000, and/or a maximum of five years imprisonment. Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) such as Sierra Donor Services, which coordinate all activities associated with donation (including distribution), are nonprofit agencies, certified and monitored by the U.S. government’s Health Care Financing Administration.

Q: What Parts Of The Body Can Be Recovered For Transplantation?
A: Vital organs for transplantation (8 of them) include the heart, liver, pancreas, intestine, 2 kidneys, and 2 lungs. Also, tissues can be recovered, including corneas (to help blind people see), bone (to help those who might otherwise face amputation), skin (to help burn patients heal), heart valves (many times used for newborns with heart problems), tendons and veins.

Q: Who Is Eligible To Be A Donor?
A: Anyone is eligible, from newborns to 80-year-olds. However, everyone who wants to be a donor should sign up on their statewide registry ( or when you apply for or renew your driver’s license. Transplant coordinators, along with transplant surgeons, evaluate each potential donor and the viability of each organ. They do a thorough evaluation of a donor’s social and medical history as well as blood tests. But upfront, everyone is a potential donor, and is encouraged to sign up on their statewide registry (