Briefly, one can donate tissues, organs and the whole body. Donations can take place under three circumstances:
- Donations when alive and conscious. Examples of these include blood, stem cells, bone marrow, kidney (only one), and segments of liver, pancreas, lung, or intestine, and are limited by what can be given without affecting the health of the donor.
- Donations when ‘brain dead.’ These include organs that can be transplanted such as heart, liver, pancreas, intestine, 2 kidneys, and 2 lungs. Tissues such as corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, tendons, and veins can also be used.
- Donations within a short time of typical death. Some organs/ tissues can be used for others, for example corneas harvested within a few hours after death can be used to give sight to someone. You can also donate any part of your body — like the brain — for research and use by the medical community. Finally you can donate your whole body to a medical college, usually to the anatomy department, so that students can study it and gain experience.
You may be very keen to donate, but you are not the person who will be taking action and doing the donation once you are dead (or brain-dead). Someone else, usually one or more of your close family members will be performing the actual actions required for the donation. Enrolling in donor’s lists may make you feel you are a “donor”, but the deed is not done until the organ or tissue is removed at the right time.
So, what should you do now (before you are brain-dead or dead) to increase the chances of successful donations? Here is a list of things that you can do:
- Discuss your desire to donate in detail with all your close family members. Convince them and ask for their commitment to help this happen when you are dying or are dead. Be persuasive. Explain to them what to do in case of brain-death and after death.
- Document your desire clearly. Write down your wish to donate (like a will), sign it, and make copies. Give copies to your close family members. Put copies in important files. Laminate a copy and hang it at home, where it is visible. This writing down will remind your loved ones of your desire. It will also make it easier for them to cope with doubts or criticisms that others may have regarding their actions relating to the donation. And who knows, it may inspire others too.
- Make the donation easy for your family after your death. Make sure the correct and up-to-date actual contact names, organization names, phone numbers and addresses that are required for performing the donation are readily available and that the family members know about them. Write down a possible sequence of activities to be done.
Enrolling yourself as a potential donor with different organizations is a good first step. But remember that these organizations will not know of your death or brain-dead status when that happens (nor will you be in any state to inform them :-)). Finally, your family members have to decide to donate or not, even if you have signed up as a potential donor.
So you need to be more proactive to actually increase the chances of becoming a donor. Inform your family members, convince them and make it easy for them to perform your desired donations. This may be more important than signing up a with a lot of organizations and collecting their badges, t-shirts and enrollment cards.
By the way, your family members can donate your organs/ tissues/ body even if you are not enrolled :-).
Many basic concepts related to various types of donations, and also information on the various steps and procedures can be seen at this link: FAQ on Organ/ Body/ Brain/ Eye Donation. Additional comments are available at: Voluntary body donation: some thoughts in response to queries I get.