By: Cynthia Hutchins and Kelly Hutchins
Organ donation is a very personal decision—there is no right or wrong decision—only the decision that is right for you. According to organ donation statistics on https://www.organdonor.gov, one-third of people who support organ donation do not have that choice documented. If you do not have your choice properly documented, it will impact your ability to make a donation upon your death.
There is no age limit on organ or tissue donation. In fact, about one-third of lifesaving organs come from people over the age of 50. One of the oldest organ donors was a 92-year-old man whose donated liver saved the life of a 69-year-old woman. Most major lifesaving organs come from living donors and trauma victims, which can happen at any age. The health of a donor and the manner of death is more important than age when it comes to donating vital organs.
Even if you die after a prolonged illness and are no longer a good candidate for organ donation, you might still be a good candidate for tissue donation, which can save and improve the lives of multiple people. Unfortunately, there are some conditions, such as certain cancers, that may make you ineligible for particular types of organ or tissue donation. If you are unsure of your ability to be a donor, consult with your physician before having your attorney finalize your documents.
You may be surprised at the number of organs and different types of tissues that can be donated by living donors. Living donors may be able to provide a whole kidney and portions of a liver, pancreas, lung, or intestines. Bone marrow and blood are two common types of tissue that can be given by living donors. During childbirth, amnion and umbilical cord blood can be donated. You can even donate leftover skin after cosmetic surgery.
The organs you can choose to donate at death include kidneys, liver, heart (in whole or part), lungs, pancreas, and intestines. The tissues you can donate include corneas, skin, bone, and tendons. These traditional donations do not interfere with the ability to have an open casket funeral. However, if you are willing to possibly forego an open casket funeral, it is possible to donate your hands, face and limbs at death. Donations of this kind can greatly improve quality of life for burn victims and amputees. Like many major organs, these donations usually come from trauma victims.
In the past, those who were HIV positive could not donate organs and tissues. This changed in 2013 with the HOPE Act, which established special programs to unite HIV positive people in need of tissue and organs to HIV positive donors. If you are HIV positive, your lawyer can help ensure you are registered to participate in a program for HIV positive organ and tissue donation.
In Illinois you can sign up to be identified as a potential organ donor when you renew your driver’s license or state ID. It is a good idea to consult with your attorney to ensure your estate planning documents reflect your wishes and do not conflict with any information on your driver’s license. Conflicting documents and ID cards may prevent organ donations after your death, especially if your survivors are not fully aware of your wishes. After you have finalized your Healthcare Power of Attorney with your lawyer, you should speak with your healthcare agent and make sure your agent clearly understands your wishes. Also, it is a good idea to ensure that your treating physicians have copies of your healthcare documents in your electronic medical records.
For additional information you may wish to consult the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois at www.agaillinois.gov.