Through the lifesaving work that Donor Alliance does, our team sees a lot of tragedy and hears a lot of heartbreaking stories. But, we also get to witness the incredible hope and healing that donation and transplantation provides. That hope and healing is what drives our team members and volunteers to continue our mission to save lives by educating and inspiring the public to sign up as organ, eye and tissue donors through community programs, public outreach and education campaigns across Colorado and Wyoming.
Through our outreach and education programs, we speak to a lot of people that want to help but have questions about everything from the state registries themselves, to how the process works and who can be a donor or get a transplant. We’ve asked our team members to answer five of the toughest questions they have been asked and compiled their responses below.
1. I plan to donate my body to science. Can I still be an organ and tissue donor?
Yes, however, Donor Alliance only recovers organs and tissues for transplant. Whole-body donation for research or education purposes must be contracted through a separate organization. If you are a registered donor in your state’s registry, organ and tissue recovery for transplant will happen before whole-body donation. This prioritizes the immediate need of saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation.
If you wish to participate in whole-body donation, we encourage you to thoroughly research the organization you are considering, make sure those arrangements are in place prior to your passing and document your desire to be a donor for transplantation purposes first. Some organizations may not accept a whole-body donation after organ and tissue recovery.
2. Can undocumented immigrants get transplants? I heard somebody couldn’t get a transplant because of their status.
Yes, undocumented immigrants can receive organ transplants. A transplant center’s criteria for all prospective candidates is the same regardless of U.S. citizenship or immigration status. Documentation of U.S. citizenship is not required at the four Colorado transplant centers. All prospective candidates are evaluated against a rigorous set of standards including various medical and psychosocial considerations, and a patient’s ability to maintain post-transplant medical care, which is essential to the success of organ transplants. Having meticulous transplant listing criteria helps ensure each precious gift of life will be maximized in its new home.
3. I’ve heard that if I’m in an accident or dying that paramedics or doctors won’t try to save my life because I have a heart on my license. Is that true?
Your status as a registered organ, eye and tissue donor has ZERO impact on the medical treatment you receive. Medical professionals have all taken an oath to save the lives of their patients. If you are ever involved in an emergency medical situation, saving your life is the only focus of your medical team. The driver license symbol is an indication of an individual’s registry status, but that status may have changed since the ID was issued, therefore the official, confidential registry database must be checked to verify registry status. Doctors, nurses and hospital staff do not have access to the organ and tissue donor registry. Only designated recovery agency staff have the ability to view anyone’s donor designation decision (or registry status).
4. I would sign up to become an organ, eye and tissue donor, but I’m too old and too sick to register.
You’re never too old or unhealthy to sign up to be a donor. Each person’s medical condition is evaluated at the time of death to determine what organs and tissues are viable for donation. Even people living with chronic diseases, like hepatitis or diabetes, can join the donor registry. Organs and tissues are generally not considered for donation if a person has died from an active cancer or an infectious disease; however, certain cancer patients can donate corneas. Everyone is encouraged to register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor and allow the medical professionals to determine your suitability to donate in the event of death.
5. Dozens of countries have presumed consent laws. Why doesn’t the U.S. move to a presumed consent policy to help shrink the transplant waiting list?
Presumed consent is a donation system by which individuals are automatically considered willing donors of organs, eyes and tissue after death unless they have taken the necessary legal steps to “opt out.” Research has shown that moving to presumed consent system would not be likely to increase lifesaving organ transplants in our area. Recent surveys demonstrate a lack of public support with 62% of Wyoming and 56% of Colorado respondents opposed to an “opt-out” or presumed consent system. Opt out would also eliminate the opportunity to request authorization from the family of a potential donor.
All states in the U.S. operate under an opt in system where the donor designation serves as a first-person consent advanced directive, unable to be overruled by the family. In other countries operating under a system of presumed consent, families are able to override the presumption of consent, nullifying the donation.
If you have more questions, or want to learn more about how to join the 68 percent of Coloradans and 59 percent of Wyoming residents who have signed up to be a donor, check out our Understanding Donation page, or visit DonateLifeColorado.org or DonateLifeWyoming.org.