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What Is Involved in Organ Donation?

Gregory Hanson
Gregory Hanson

In organ donation, a donor, either living or deceased, offers to allow some or all of their organs to be used to save or improve the lives of others. Organs are removed from a donor by a surgical team, preserved for a short period of time, and then transplanted into a waiting patient. The recipient of donated organs will typically need to be placed on medication to reduce the risk of organ rejection but will generally be able to lead a normal life. The organs from one donor can save or improve a number of different lives and will be used to help as many people as possible.

Someone wishing to donate their organs after death can make their wishes known either with a special legal document or by selecting the appropriate box when applying for a driver’s license. After a patient has been pronounced clinically dead by a medical team that has made every possible effort to save his or her life, the organ donor status will be checked. If the patient agreed to donate his or her organs, they will be carefully removed and distributed to the pool of potential recipients based on compatibility and medical need. The body of the organ donor will be respectfully treated and carefully preserved, allowing for an open casket funeral, if wished.

A surgical team is responsible for performing organ transplants.
A surgical team is responsible for performing organ transplants.

In cases where organ donation involves a living donor the process is somewhat different. A medical team will carefully evaluate the health of the potential donor and determine if he or she can safely donate an organ. If a living donor can safely give up a kidney or a portion of another organ, then he or she will undergo surgery, during which the organ or organ tissue is removed. The organ will then be implanted in a recipient. Living organ donation offers the advantage of generally healthier organs and is also a better way to find close matches for transplant recipients, as family members can often donate organs with a lower chance of rejection.

After organ donation, the recipient will typically go on to lead a relatively normal life. Drugs will often be used to suppress the immune response so as to prevent organ rejection, and there are some side effects associated with these drugs. A living organ donor will go on to lead an entirely normal life, as a transplant team is not medically allowed to perform a transplant if that operation would pose a long-term risk to the donor.

There are many good reasons to engage in organ donation. The organs from one donor can save or improve many lives, and there is always a shortage of willing donors. Very strict protocols are in place to ensure that donors and non-donors both receive exactly the same excellent care. The only major risk associated with live organ donation stems from the fact that donation does involve surgery — and there are always some risks associated with surgery — but medical personnel work assiduously to minimize these risks.

Discussion Comments


I checked off the organ donation box on my first driver's license, and I've made sure it's been checked off on every renewed license since then. I've also made sure my wife and children all know that I'm all for donating my organs after death. I've heard some disturbing organ donation stories where a donor's wishes weren't honored because the doctors couldn't legally confirm his or her donor status.

As far as living organ donation is concerned, I've agreed to be tested in the past for bone marrow and kidney transplants, but I came up as a bad match both times. I have heard of people agreeing to donate their organs to complete strangers, but I only agreed to testing because the possible recipients were blood relatives. I don't know if I would donate an organ for anyone except a relative or close friend. I admire people who would be willing to do it, though.


We all knew my nephew wanted to donate his organs when he died, but we didn't really understand the process very well. He was hit by a drunk driver a few years ago and stayed in a coma for about a month. Once it became apparent that a meaningful recovery was impossible, his parents agreed to donate whatever organs were not damaged by the accident.

I thought the transplant surgeons would come in right away and remove everything all at once. In reality, they waited until all of the recipients of those organs were contacted and prepped for the operations before they made the first cut. Apparently once the harvesting process begins, a clock starts ticking. The surgery teams on both sides have to be ready to work quickly in order to minimize the down time. Sometimes a donated organ has to travel for several hours before it can be transplanted, and at some point it is no longer viable if it doesn't get resupplied with oxygen and blood.

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    • A surgical team is responsible for performing organ transplants.
      By: uwimages
      A surgical team is responsible for performing organ transplants.