Many people want to make certain organs available for medical research or for transplants to other people when they die. You probably should get an organ donor card and carry it with you to show that you are authorizing the donation of your organs or tissues. You may be able to add a sticker to your driver’s license to show that you are an organ donor. A living will or advance health care directive also can state your wish to donate organs, tissues, or other body parts. These documents can provide limits on the purposes for using your donation. You may want to restrict the use of your organs to transplants, or you may feel that they should be used for research and education.
Some of the most commonly sought organs for transplants include the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, and pancreas. In some cases, a transplant may involve bones, tendons, connective tissues, or skin. The cornea of the eye also is a common type of transplant. Even if you choose to donate your organs, you may not be found to be a suitable donor for certain types of organ transplants. The likelihood is relatively low that one of your major organs, such as your heart or kidneys, actually will be used in a transplant.
Conflicting Wishes of Family Members
An individual’s wish to donate organs can be controversial among their family members. You should make sure to put your intent to donate your organs in writing and specify which organs will be subject to donation. In some cases, your family might still be able to override your wishes, but a discussion with them in advance could help them understand and respect your reasoning. Since organ donations must happen immediately when someone dies, you should make sure that you have the paperwork in place ahead of time. You should also tell the health care agent named in your health care power of attorney about your plans.
Donating Your Full Body to a Medical Institution
Less often, an individual will choose to donate their entire body for research. This is not possible if any organs have been removed, so you will need to choose between organ donation and full body donation. Medical institutions cannot pay for a deceased person’s body, but they will cover the costs of transporting the body and disposing of its remains after using it for research. In your donation agreement, moreover, you may be able to arrange for your body to be returned to your family members for burial and cremation once the research is done.
Your health care agent or next of kin can handle the donation of your body to a medical institution by providing written authorization after your death. To avoid confusion and uncertainty, however, you should try to arrange the process with your chosen medical institution in advance. As with organ donation, you should have a conversation with your family members about this emotionally sensitive matter. This can prevent conflicts or efforts to override your wishes later. You also should take the precaution of putting your wishes in writing in a living will or another estate planning document.