Thinking about what will happen to your body when you pass away is probably not what you would like to do with your spare time. However, if you want to donate your organs when you die, you must think about precisely what you want and communicate those wishes to the people who will carry them out. When you begin exploring the options available to you, it becomes evident that the process is not always as smooth as you would imagine.
Organ donation is one of the most regulated aspects of the healthcare industry, and the legalities have very unique considerations. Essentially, organ donation is the physical transfer of the body parts of a person (the donor) to another person through surgical means. Organ donation can occur during the donor's lifetime or at the donor's death. This article focuses primarily on the transfer of organs at the time of the donor's death.
Although the need for organ donations is exceptionally high worldwide, the supply is often low. The lack of clearly communicated and documented consent by a potential donor is one of the most common challenges to organ donation. Despite an individual's desire to donate organs, a failure to follow the right protocol can render the individual's decision unenforceable.
What You Can Donate
Scientific advancements now allow for a single donor to donate organs to up to seventy-five donees. Organ donors can provide their kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and pancreas. Donors can also donate tissue such as bone, skin, tendons, corneas, bone marrow, and stem cells. There are even instances where hands and feet have been successfully transferred. However, for many of these organs, the transfer must be initiated within twenty-four hours. Additionally, each potential donor must be evaluated on a singular basis with respect to the particular organ at issue.
Alternatively, some donors are interested in donating their entire body to scientific research. If you are interested in this route, you must be careful to avoid organ donation opportunities because scientific research requires complete bodies. In such instances, identifying the scientific institute you are interested in donating to and working with that institute directly is the best method. As you work with them, be careful to document your specific intent to donate your remains to science.
Making Your Wishes Known
There are a number of ways to make your wishes regarding organ donation known and increase the likelihood that they will be enforced. The most effective approach is a comprehensive one. This involves registration as a donor, legal planning, and communication of your wishes. The first and most important step is registering as an organ donor, which you can do in two ways: (1) find your state's unique registry on www.organdonor.org and register online or (2) register at your local department of motor vehicles. In the latter scenario, your license will likely state that you are an organ donor.
The next step you can take is ensuring your wishes are recorded in your estate planning documents. An advance healthcare directive and living will are key documents that can include your end-of-life wishes. Finally, to ensure that your wishes are known, communicate them to your friends and family. These are the people who will end up intimately involved with your end-of-life decisions. Carefully select your healthcare agent and clearly communicate to that agent your desire to donate your organs.
It is important to note that the steps described above should not be taken in isolation. This is particularly true regarding your estate plan and communication of your wishes to friends and family. If there are conflicts between your plan and what family members think your wishes are, some states give greater weight to the documents memorializing your wishes. Your estate plan should contain your wishes, as well as information on any donor registrations you have made. Your documented wishes should then be expressed to those closest to you and who will carry out your wishes after you pass away.
Schedule an Appointment
As difficult as it is to discuss death and end-of-life decisions, it is not something to put off. Call our office to schedule a virtual or in-person consultation with us. We are here to help you plan so that you can trust that your wishes are clear.