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The Gift of Life: Organ and Tissue Donation

Organ and tissue donation is the process of removing organs and tissues of the human body from someone who has either recently died or a living donor so that they may be transplanted to a living recipient. This process is accomplished in two surgical procedures, the harvesting and the transplant.

Typically, organ donation takes place after clinical brain death, which is defined as the irreversible loss of brain functions. Tissue donation takes place after either brain or cardiac death, which is defined as the irreversible loss of cardiovascular function.

Who can donate tissues and/or Organs?
Donors can be of any age, gender, or race. A determination is made at the time of death, based on the person’s medical and social history, whether the tissues and/or organs are suitable for harvesting and transplantation.

Donation Legislature in the United States
Under current law, states regulate donation and transplant laws, but all state legislation must adhere to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. This Act, sponsored by Al Gore and Orrin Hatch, outlawed the sale of human organs and established several legislative bodies to regulate organ procurement organizations, transplantation networks, and a registry of transplant recipients. At the state level, each individual state has its own legislation in the form Uniform Anatomical Gift Act and generally, states streamline the process by noting consent on an individual’s driver’s license.

Tissues and Organs are in High Demand
By far, the demand for healthy tissues and organs surpasses the number of donors all over the world; there are many potential recipients on organ donation wait lists. In the United States, there are well over 100,000 people on waiting lists, and generally, a third of those patients are inactive and unable to receive a donation. Success rates and wait times vary greatly between organs and tissues, due to both the difficulty of the procedure and availability of the organ.

Becoming an Organ Donor
Although each state has its own set of laws regarding organ donation, the steps are generally fairly similar:

1. Register with your state’s donor registry: http://organdonor.gov/donor/registry.shtm
2. Designate your decision on your driver’s license when you obtain or renew.
3. Talk to your family about your donation decision, so that they understand your wishes before crisis occurs.

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