What is the Organ Donation Process After Death? Nine Important Things to Know

Organ Donor

Misconceptions regarding the organ donation process may be why so few Americans are registered.

The need for organ donors is tremendous and rapidly growing. In the U.S., less than 1% of registered donors ever make it through to the actual donation process. One deceased organ donor can save as many as eight lives, so it’s critically important to share accurate information and encourage donor registration. Here are seven important things to know about the organ donation process and the steps that take place after death.


1. Advance registration is required.

All organ donors must be registered with their state to be included in the organ donation process when they die. Each state has slightly different methods for organ donor registry, so visit OrganDonor.gov to choose your state and complete the registration process. After you register, the organ donor designation should be added to your driver’s license, included in your end-of-life plan, and your family should be told about your wishes.


2. Upon passing, the health of the donor is thoroughly evaluated.

Many times, organ donation is not possible when registered donors pass away. When a donor dies or their death is imminent, medical professionals who coordinate with the organ donor registry evaluate the person thoroughly. The evaluation may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Collecting the person’s medical history
  • Drawing blood to test for infectious diseases
  • Running lab tests to determine the health of internal organs
  • CAT scans and X-rays

If the departed donor’s organs are deemed healthy enough to be transplanted, the donation process is approved to begin.


3. Family authorization must be obtained.

Once it is determined that the departed individual is fit to provide organ donation, the next of kin is contacted. Even if the deceased is a registered donor, the next of kin must still provide authorization. If they refuse to sign the donor consent form, the donation cannot proceed. This step highlights the importance of notifying close family members of your wishes. Be sure to discuss your end-of-life plans with your loved ones along with your reasons for wanting to be an organ donor.


4. The donor is medically maintained.

To keep the organs healthy, the donor is medically maintained with fluids, medications, and other types of support. Although the person is deceased, these medical interventions keep the organs functioning until it is time for them to be recovered for donation.


5. Organs are matched to recipients.

People in need of organ donation are listed on a national registry along with details such as the type of organ needed, blood type, body size, urgency, and time on the waiting list. When an organ becomes available, the national registry is examined for potential recipients. Donor and recipient information is critical when matching organs to potential donors. Heart, lung, and liver transplants require a similar body size between the donor and recipient, as well as a matching blood type. For pancreas and kidney transplants, the donor and recipient need a similar genetic tissue type. Matches are first sought in the immediate vicinity of the donor, then regionally, and then on a national basis if no matches are found in a closer location.


6. Recipients are located.

When a potential recipient is found, careful coordination occurs between their transplant team and the registry coordinator. The transplant surgeon is first notified about the available organ. If for any reason, the surgeon rejects the organ on behalf of the patient, the transplant team for the next person on the waiting list will be contacted. Once the transplant surgeon accepts the organ on behalf of the patient, the donation process continues.


7. The organs are recovered for donation.

Once recipients have been found for all viable organs, the donor is taken into surgery. A specialized surgical team is responsible for recovering the organs in a safe and particular manner while also respecting the body of the donor.


8. Recipients undergo transplants.

While the organs are being recovered, recipients are notified by their transplant team that an organ match has been found. They are immediately prepared for surgery. As soon as the organ arrives at the hospital, surgery for the transplant commences.


9. Donors are buried or cremated, according to their wishes.

After the organ recovery surgery takes place, the donor is transported to the funeral home for burial or cremation. Organ donors can still have traditional funerals with open casket viewings, if desired. They are always treated with the utmost respect and dignity throughout the entire donation process to accommodate all funeral preferences.


Getting the facts about the organ donation process is vitally important. Right now, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a lifesaving transplant. If you have questions or want to learn more about organ donation, we can provide the resources you need. Please contact us anytime.


About Evan W. Smith Funeral Services: Since 2009, residents of Wilmington, Dover, and the surrounding Delaware community have relied on the caring staff at Evan W. Smith Funeral Services to help them through their darkest hours. Family-owned and operated, the company offers an array of elite funeral care services, including traditional funerals, cremations, memorials, pre-planning, grief counseling, and more. With decades of experience in caring for families from all cultural backgrounds and diverse walks of life, Evan W. Smith Funeral Services is committed to creating memorable, uplifting experiences that always exceed expectations. For more information, please visit www.ewsmithfs.com.

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