Organ & Tissue Donation 101
Becoming an organ or tissue donor is an important life decision and you should have all the information you need to feel confident that it’s what you want to do. You may have many questions, so here’s where you can:
  • Lean more about your faith’s theological perspective on organ and tissue donation
  • Get clarification on some common myths
  • Look up terms in our organ and tissue donation glossary
  • Understand which organs and tissues can be donated and how donation helps save and enhance lives
  • Find answers to common questions

Theological Perspective on Organ and Tissue Donation
When someone close to us dies, it’s natural to start thinking more about spiritual questions. That’s especially true when the death was unexpected and we find ourselves suddenly faced with the decision of organ and tissue donation.
While wrestling with that tough decision, many people wonder what their religion officially says about organ and tissue donation. To help you make informed decisions, we’ve reached out to leaders in many faith traditions and asked them to tell us about their religion’s stance on the issue.

We found that nearly all religious groups support organ and tissue donation and transplantation as long as it does not impede the life or hasten the death of the donor.

In fact, many religious groups encourage organ and tissue donation and see it as a charitable act that saves or enhances life.
What does your specific faith tradition say about organ and tissue donation?  
Below you’ll find an alphabetical list of many religious institutions and their positions on organ and tissue donation.
A special note to faith leaders
BloodCenter of Wisconsin encourages all faith leaders to learn about his or her religious group's official position on organ and tissue donation, transplantation and other biomedical ethical issues. Family members will look to you as a faith leader for guidance and support. They will rely on you to give them correct information about their faith tradition's official position. Keep in mind that official doctrine on these issues may change over time and we encourage you to stay informed. If a family is unable to make an informed decision about organ and tissue donation, they could suffer even more from feelings of guilt –– regardless of the decision they may make.
Your knowledge and action may help alleviate the suffering of thousands of people who die annually for lack of available donor organs and tissue while a multitude of healthy organs are buried every day. This itself is an ethical issue.
As you read the explanations below, consider offering to help your religious group craft an even more clearly defined position.
AME & AME ZION (African Methodist Episcopal)
Organ and tissue donation is viewed as an act of neighborly love and charity, and all members are encouraged to support donation to help others.
The Amish consent to donation if they know it is for the health and welfare of the transplant recipient. They believe that since God created the human body, it is God who heals. However, they are not forbidden from using modern medical services, including surgery, hospitalization, dental work, anesthesia, blood transfusions, or immunization.
Assembly of God
Donation is supported, though no official policy has been stated. The decision is left up to the individual.
Buddhists believe organ and tissue donation is a matter that should be left to an individual's conscience. Reverend Gyomay Masao Kubose, president and founder of The Buddhist Temple of Chicago, said, "We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives." The importance of letting loved ones know your wishes is stressed.
Organ and tissue donation is considered an act of charity and love, and transplants are morally and ethically acceptable to the Vatican.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Christian Church encourages organ and tissue donation, stating that people were created for God's glory and for sharing God's love. A 1985 resolution, adopted by the General Assembly, encourages "members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to enroll as organ donors and prayerfully support those who have received an organ transplant."
The Church of Christ, Scientist
Christian Scientists do not take a specific position on transplants or organ donation. They normally rely on spiritual, rather than medical means for healing. Organ and tissue donation is an issue that is left to the individual church member.
The 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church recommends and urges "all members of this Church to consider seriously the opportunity to donate organs after death that others may live, and that such decision be clearly stated to family, friends, church and attorney."
Greek Orthodox
The Greek Orthodox Church supports donation as a way to better human life in the form of transplantation or research that will lead to improvements in the prevention of disease.
Gypsies (Roma)
Gypsies tend to be against organ donation. Although they have no formal resolution, their opposition is associated with their belief in the afterlife. Gypsies believe that for one year after a person dies, the soul retraces its steps. All parts of the body must remain intact because the soul maintains a physical shape.
Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs, according to the Hindu Temple Society of North America. In fact, Hindu mythology includes stories in which parts of the human body are used for the benefit of other humans and society. The act is an individual decision.
Independent Conservative Evangelical
Generally, Evangelical Christians have no opposition to organ and tissue donation. Donation is an individual decision.
Based on the principles and the foregoing attributes of a Muslim, the majority of Islamic legal scholars have concluded that transplantation of organs as treatment for otherwise lethal end-stage organ failure is a good thing. Donation by living donors and by deceased donors is not only permitted but encouraged. Muslim scholars of the most prestigious academies are unanimous in declaring that organ donation is an act of merit and in certain circumstances can be an obligation.
Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that the Bible comments directly on organ transplants; hence, decisions made regarding cornea, kidney, and other tissue transplants must be made by the individual. The same is true regarding bone transplants. Jehovah's Witnesses are often assumed to be opposed to donation because of their belief against blood transfusion. However, this merely means that all blood must be removed from the organs and tissues before being transplanted.
In principal, Judaism sanctions and encourages organ donation in order to save lives. Rabbi Elliott N. Dorff wrote that saving a life through organ donation supersedes the rules concerning treatment of a dead body. Transplantation does not desecrate a body or show lack of respect for the dead and any delay in burial to facilitate organ donation is respectful of the decedent. Organ donation saves lives and honors the deceased.
The Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards has stated that organ donations after death represent not only an act of kindness, but are also a "commanded obligation" which saves human lives.
Lutheran Church
The Lutheran Church passed a resolution in 1984 stating that donation contributes to the well-being of humanity and can be "an expression of sacrificial love for a neighbor in need." They call on "members to consider donating and to make any necessary family legal arrangements, including the use of a signed donor card."
Mennonites have no formal position on donation but are not opposed to it. They leave the decision to the individual or his/her family.
The Moravian Church has made no statement addressing organ and tissue donation or transplantation. Robert E. Sawyer, President, Provincial Elders Conference, Moravian Church of America, Southern Province, states, "There is nothing in our doctrine or policy that would prevent a Moravian pastor from assisting a family in making a decision to donate or not to donate an organ." It is, therefore, a matter of individual choice.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes the donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit to individuals with medical conditions. The decision to will or donate one's own body organs or tissue for medical purposes or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs and tissue from a deceased family member is made by the individual or the deceased member's family. The decision to receive a donated organ should be made after receiving competent medical counsel and confirmation through prayer.
Pentecostals believe the decision to donate should be left to the individual.
Presbyterians encourage and endorse donation. It is an individual's right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. The resolution states, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their ministry to others…”
Seventh-Day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not have an official statement on organ donation; however, donation and transplantation are strongly encouraged. In fact, there are numerous Seventh-day Adventist transplant hospitals.
In Shinto, the dead body is considered impure and dangerous, and thus quite powerful. Injuring a dead body is a serious crime. It is difficult to obtain consent from bereaved families for organ donation or dissection for medical education or pathological anatomy because Shintos relate donation to injuring a dead body. Families are concerned that they not injure the itai, the relationship between the dead person and the bereaved people.
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has no official position on organ donation. “Such decisions are a matter of personal conscience,” writes Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and fellow of the Research Institute of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Quakers do not have an official position. They believe that organ and tissue donation is an individual decision.
Unitarian Universalist
Organ and tissue donation is widely supported by Unitarian Universalists. They view it as an act of love and selfless giving, according to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
United Church of Christ
“United Church of Christ people, churches and agencies are extremely and overwhelmingly supportive of organ sharing,” writes Rev. Jay Litner, Director, Washington office of the United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society.
United Methodist
"The United Methodist Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors," reports a church policy statement. In a 2000 resolution the church also "encourages its congregations to join in the interfaith celebration of National Donor Sabbath…another way that United Methodists can help save lives."

Clearing up Myths About Organ and Tissue Donation
Perhaps you’d like to become an organ and tissue donor but a commonly held misconception or myth makes you feel uncomfortable or unsure. This information can help you make a better, more informed decision by giving you organ and tissue donation facts.
Myth: Donor Families are charged for donation.
Fact: There is no cost to be an organ and tissue donor. All costs associated with the donation process are assumed by the recovery organizations. Donor families are responsible for hospital expenses incurred by the patient before donation and funeral expenses.
Myth: Doctors may let me die so they can transplant organs to their other patients.
Fact: Medical and nursing care is not affected in any way by your status as a donor. Every attempt is made to save your life. The medical team who works to save your life is a completely separate team from the donation professionals who recover organs and tissues.
Myth: Signing a donor card is pointless.
Fact: Signing a donor card, and discussing your decision with your family members is the best way to ensure that your personal wishes will be carried out. To ensure that your wishes are carried out, register online at or at the Department of Transportation/Division of Motor Vehicles when you renew your license or I.D. Once you register as a donor, you have made a record of gift in accordance with Wisconsin state law. Donation professionals will present documentation of your inclusion in the registry to your family and work with them to honor that decision.
Myth: Celebrities and/or wealthy people get priority and can buy organs.
Fact: Celebrity transplants tend to get more media coverage, so it may seem to be common. Factors such as race, gender, age, income or celebrity status are never considered when determining who receives an organ. The organ allocation and distribution system is based on many factors including blood type, length of time on the waiting list, geographical location, severity of illness and other medical criteria. There is no way to buy a place on the waiting list. It is a federal crime to buy or sell organs and tissues.
Myth: Donation is painful for the donor’s family.
Fact: Studies show that donation most often provides immediate and long-term consolation. Donation can be especially comforting when the death is unexpected and the donor is young. Family members of the donor often feel encouraged that something good has come from something tragic.
Myth: Organ and tissue donation is against my religion.
Fact: All major religions — Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism — fully support donation. Read about your faith tradition’s official position on organ and tissue donation at our theological perspectives section. Or speak with your clergy or faith leader.
Myth: I won’t be able to go to Heaven or I will have consequences in the next life or the afterlife if I donate my organs.
Fact: Most faiths, including the Christian traditions (Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant, The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints), Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, have taken the theological position that organ donation will not affect you in the afterlife or the next life. Many see organ donation as morally right and good and they describe it as an act of charity and love toward others. We have spoken to many faith leaders and religious scholars, but to ensure you have the latest and most accurate understanding of your religion’s position on organ donation, please speak with a spiritual leader in your faith community. In particular, if you are part of the Gypsies (Roma) community, please see a spiritual advisor, as this faith cautions against organ donation. If you are part of the Shinto community, we also strongly encourage you to speak with a faith leader.
Myth: Donation disfigures the body and delays the funeral.
Fact: The donor’s body is treated with respect and dignity throughout the donation process. Organ and tissue donation is a very careful surgical procedure. Great care is taken so that an open-casket service is still possible with any type of donation. The donation process begins after death, therefore wouldn’t delay funeral arrangements. Donation coordinators work closely with families to ensure their personal needs are met.
Myth: Business travelers are drugged and their kidneys stolen to be transplanted on the black market.
Fact: Although this myth continues to flourish on the Internet and other media outlets, it has never been substantiated. This has never occurred in the U.S. or any other industrialized country. It has no basis in the reality of organ transplantation. See for more information.
Myth: Transplants don’t really work. They are experimental.
Fact: Americans receive more than 28,000 solid organ transplants and 1 million tissue transplants annually. Transplantation is a standard medical procedure and survival and success rates are extremely high.
Myth: I’ve had cancer. Or I have (name a disease). So I can’t be a donor.
Fact: Medical criteria for organ, tissue and eye donation change on a regular basis and are determined by need. You should not rule yourself out for any reason. If you are ever in a situation where you could donate, donation professionals will review your potential to determine the suitability of organs and tissues for transplant.
Myth: I've heard something about for-profit organ or tissue donation agencies. What is that all about?
Fact: It is illegal in the United States to buy or sell human organs or tissue. Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) oversee the donation process for human organs such as heart, lung, liver, kidney, pancreas and small intestines. OPOs are non-profit. Tissue recovery agencies recover human tissues—skin, bone, veins, heart valves and connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Unlike organs, tissue has to be “processed” before it can be used. The processing is performed by an organization that may be for-profit or non-profit. The controversy is the concept of these organizations "profiting" from processing human tissue. In the tissue-processing industry, the argument against for-profit tissue processing organizations is the "commodification" of the human body and the notion of people profiting from others' death and donation of their tissue. The argument for for-profit tissue processing organizations is these organizations can direct more money into research and development and find more uses for tissue, resulting in the ability to help more people.
Myth: People die because of organ donation.
Fact: People do not die because of organ donation. Organ donation happens because people die. Organ donation does not happen until after brain death occurs. The law clearly states that the doctor who pronounces brain death must have nothing to do with the removal or transplantation of organs.

Which organs can be used to help save other people’s lives?
Many organs can be used to save a life. In fact, one person has the potential has save up to eight people. Tissue donation can help more than 50 people and eye donation can restore the sight of two individuals. Here is a list of organs and tissues that can be donated:
Organs of respiration
For patients with cystic fibrosis, emphysema, or other end-stage lung disease
Pumps blood to all body systems
For patients with end-stage heart disease
Instrumental in energy regulation, makes proteins, removes wastes from the blood
For patients with end-stage liver disease
Extracts waste from the blood; produces important hormones
Eliminates need for dialysis
Secretes enzymes necessary for digestion, secretes insulin which regulates blood sugar
For treating diabetes by eliminating the need for insulin injections, reduces risk of losing sight or limb
Small intestines
Portion of digestive tract important for absorption of nutrients
Treats patients with digestive and absorption disorders (most commonly young children)
Allows light to enter the eye
Restores sight to the blind
Heart valves
Controls flow of blood in the heart by opening and closing with each heartbeat
Used to reconstruct poorly formed heart valves in children or diseased valves in adults
Protects the body against dehydration, injury and infection
Used as a temporary covering for burn patients to decrease:
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Heat loss
  • Fluid loss

Supports the body, protects vital organs
Used in:
  • Facial reconstruction
  • Limb salvage
  • Correction of birth defects
  • Cancer treatments
  • Spinal and oral surgery

Saphenous veins
Longest vein in the leg, carries blood from the leg back to the heart
Used in patients to bypass obstructions in the heart or to reconstruct blocked or damaged vessels of the leg
Connective tissue that serves as skeletal tissue in some parts of the body, e.g., nose and outer ear
Facial and other cartilage reconstruction
Tough fibrous connective tissue that provides support and stability to the body's joints
Repair damaged tissues caused by accident or degenerative disease

Glossary of Organ and Tissue Donation Terms
This glossary of commonly used terms is just one of the donor resources we’ve created  to help you understand the process of organ and tissue donation.
AATB: The American Association of Tissue Banks is a professional, non-profit, scientific and educational organization. It is the only national tissue banking organization in the United States and membership totals more than 100 accredited tissue banks and 1,000 individual members. The Association was founded in 1976 by a group of doctors and scientists who in 1949 started our nation’s first tissue bank, the United States Navy Tissue Bank. Recognizing the increasing use of human tissue for transplant, these individuals saw the need for a national organization to develop standards, promote ethics and increase donations. The AATB’s Standards for Tissue Banking are recognized in both the U.S. and worldwide as the definitive guide for tissue banking. These standards are the only private tissue-banking standards published in the U.S. and they are the most comprehensive and detailed tissue-banking standards in the world.
Actionable Donor Designations (ADD): Taking the appropriate steps in one’s home state to ensure that a personal decision to become a donor is documented and honored.
Allocation: The process of determining how organs are distributed. Allocation includes the system of policies and guidelines that ensure organs are distributed in an equitable, ethical and medically sound manner.
Allocation policies: Rules established by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to guide and regulate organ allocation and distribution in the United States.
Allograft: Tissue or cells recovered from one individual and intended for transplantation into another individual of the same species.
AOPO: The Association of Organ Procurement Organizations is the non-profit organization recognized as the national representative of fifty-eight federally-designated organ procurement organizations (OPOs), serving more than 300 million Americans. As a professional organization, AOPO is dedicated to the special concerns of OPOs, providing education, information sharing, research and technical assistance and collaboration with other health care organizations and federal agencies. Member organizations bring their collective voices to the national conversation about organ and tissue donation to provide hope within reach to the men, women and children across the country waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
Autograft: Tissue or cells recovered from an individual and transplanted back into that same individual.
Best practices: Processes and activities shown in practice to be the most effective.
Blood type: One of four groups (A, B, AB or O) into which blood is classified. Blood types are based on differences in molecules (proteins and carbohydrates) on the surface of red blood cells.
Brain death: The irreversible end of all brain activity, including involuntary activity necessary to sustain life. Brain death is used as a legal indicator of death.
Candidate: A person registered on the national organ transplant waiting list.
Cancellous: (can-cell-us) An adjective used to describe something as being spongy or lattice-like in character. When referring to bone it describes the type of bone found in the marrow cavities of the long bones.
Cartilage: A form of dense connective tissue composed of cells in a dense matrix. Cartilage comes in several specific types but commonly is associated with the type that is found lining the surfaces of bones forming a joint. Cartilage reduces wear on the bones and allows for smooth movement in the joint.
Collaborative: Multiple organizations that come together to learn about and to create improved processes in a specific topic area. The expectation is that the teams share expertise and data with each other, thus “everyone learns, everyone teaches.”
Conversion, conversion rate: Deaths that meet eligible criteria for donation which lead to someone becoming a donor.
Cornea: The clear outer part of the eye’s focusing system, located at the front of the eye.
Cortical bone: Bone recovered from the cortex, which is the very hard and dense outer layer of bone found on most elements of the skeleton. Cortical bone has a very specific structure and is responsible for most of the strength associated with bone.
Criteria (medical criteria): Criteria for donation are a set of clinical or biologic standards or conditions that must be met.
Cross match: A blood test to determine compatibility between donor and recipient. A positive cross match indicates incompatibility. If the cross match is “negative,” then the transplant may proceed. Cross matching is performed for many organ transplants.
Cryopreservation: The use of low temperatures to preserve cells or tissue. Often a chemical substance is added to protect the cells from damage during the freezing and thawing of the material.
Deceased Donor: An individual from whom at least one solid organ is recovered for the purpose of transplantation after suffering brain death or cardiac death.
Deceased donor transplant: The transplant of an organ from a deceased donor.
Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD), or Donation after Circulatory Death (DACD): Also known as non-heart beating donation or cardiac death donation. Donation after cardiac (circulatory) death can occur on neurologically intact donors who do not fulfill neurologic (brain death) criteria prior to circulatory arrest.
Demineralized bone: Allograft bone that has been treated to remove most of the mineral component of the bone and consists mainly of the connective tissue matrix and proteins. Demineralized bone has osteoinductive properties.
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS or HHS): The department of the federal government responsible for health-related programs and issues.
Domino transplant: A procedure in which an organ is removed from one transplant candidate and immediately transplanted into a second patient, with the first patient receiving a new organ from a deceased donor.
Donate Life America (DLA): Formerly the Coalition on Donation, Donate Life America is a national not-for-profit alliance of local affiliates and corporate partners that joined forces to inspire all people to Donate Life® through organ, eye and tissue donation. At the core of the organization's education efforts are the ongoing qualitative and quantitative research of public attitudes about organ, eye and tissue donation and the development and dissemination of effective, motivating public service campaigns. Distributed at the national and community level, these multi-media campaigns effectively communicate two core messages: "Transplants give people their life back," and "Here is how you can help."
Founded by the transplant community in 1992, Donate Life America publishes brochures, program kits and other materials; provides technical assistance, training, information and referral services; and coordinates the National Campaign for Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation. It is comprised of national organizational members and local coalitions across the U.S. that coordinate donation related activities at the local level. Volunteer advertising agencies work with the Coalition and its committees to develop targeted mass media campaigns.
Donate LifeSM, Done VidaSM: Since 2000, “Donate Life” and its Spanish-translation “Done Vida” have been the primary slogans and service mark logos of the Coalition on Donation (now Donate Life America.) They promote donation as a forthright, life-affirming action. Donate Life America encourages the widest possible use of its logos and materials in order to provide a sustained, unified national message about donation. Guidelines and policies are in place to ensure consistency, appropriate use, and the integrity of these national logos and materials.
Donate Life Wisconsin (DLW): A not-for-profit organization that is the official organ, tissue and eye donation representative for the state of Wisconsin. DLW is a group of organizations that come together to educate Wisconsin’s citizens about organ, tissue and eye donation, and the Wisconsin Donor Registry ( Membership in DLW includes the state’s two organ procurement organizations, four tissue recovery agencies, the Lion’s Eye Bank, four transplant centers, the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin, the American Liver Foundation and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Three additional representatives include a donor family member, an organ transplant recipient and a living donor. The team shares expertise and data, plans education and awareness events, represents Wisconsin at national Donate Life America education events and works with the media to promote donation. Efforts include: outreach to faith communities, National Donate Life month activities and the creation and support of the Wisconsin Donor Registry.
Donation Service Area (DSA): The demographic area that is assigned by the Federal Government to each OPO in the nation. Patients who meet criteria for donation in the hospitals located within the service area must report to their assigned OPO, who will serve that donor.
Donor: Someone from whom at least one organ or tissue is recovered for the purpose of transplantation. A deceased donor is a patient who has been declared dead using either brain death or cardiac death criteria, from whom at least one vascularized solid organ is recovered for the purpose of organ transplantation. A living donor is one who donates an organ or segment of an organ for the intent of transplantation.
Donor registries: Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online registries provide authorized professionals access to a confidential database of registered organ donors, allowing easy and quick confirmation of an individual's consent to organ donation. All registries are voluntary and, in Wisconsin, are operated by the DHHS, Division of DOT. The Wisconsin registry is located online at
EBAA:The Eye Bank Association of America, Inc. (EBAA) is a nonprofit organization of eye banks dedicated to restoring sight through the promotion and advancement of eye banking.
End-stage organ disease: A disease that leads to the permanent failure of an organ.
Extended criteria donor: Donors who fall outside the normally excepted range of criteria for donation. Medical history, age and cause of death issues may place a donor in the extended criteria donor category, but still allow successful donation to occur. Recipients are notified when they are being offered an organ that is an extended criteria organ, and may decline that organ.
First person authorization legislation: Legislation that allows donor designation to be indicated on a driver's license, donor registry or an official signed donor document, which gives recovery agencies legal authority to proceed with organ, eye and tissue procurement without consent from the family.
Graft: A transplanted organ or tissue.
Graft survival: The length of time an organ functions successfully after being transplanted.
Homologous: (hom-all-i-gus) Describes transplanted tissue that provides the same function in its new location. For example, while a graft may come from a leg of a donor and be placed in a spine of a recipient, the function of the graft is fundamentally the same – to provide support.
Infectious disease testing: The process of testing blood and tissue to determine suitability for transplant.
Immunosuppressive: Relating to the weakening or reducing of your immune system’s responses to foreign material; immunosuppressive drugs reduce your immune system’s ability to reject a transplanted organ.
Incompatible living donor: A living donor that does not match their intended recipient.
Iris: The colored part of the eye that regulates the amount of light entering the eye.
Kidneys: A pair of organs that remove wastes from the body through the production of urine. All of the blood in the body passes through the kidneys about 20 times every hour. Kidneys can be donated from living and deceased donors and transplanted into patients with kidney failure.
Kidney exchange: A kidney transplant patient and their incompatible living donor are placed into a kidney exchange program in an attempt to match them with other recipient and donor pairs. At times, multiple matches are made, creating a kidney “chain” that can include up to 36 pairs of recipients and donors.
Lens: A clear part of the eye behind the iris that helps focus light or an image on the retina.
Liver: The largest organ in the body, made up of a spongy mass of wedge-shaped lobes. The liver secretes bile, which aids in digestion, helps process proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and stores substances like vitamins. It also removes wastes from the blood. A living donor can give part of their liver, after which the liver will regenerate itself in both the donor and recipient.
Living donation: When a living person gives an organ or a portion of an organ for use in a transplant. A kidney or portion of a liver, lung, pancreas or intestine may be donated. See also Living Donor, Organ Donation.
Living donor: A living person who donates an organ for transplantation, such as a kidney or a segment of the lung, liver, pancreas, or intestine. Living donors may be blood relatives, emotionally related individuals, or altruistic strangers. These may also include domino heart or liver transplants. See Domino Transplant.
Lungs: The organs of respiration in which aeration of the blood takes place, consisting of a right and left lung divided into lobes. The right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two lobes.
Match: The compatibility between the donor and the recipient. The more appropriate the match, the greater the chance of a successful transplant.
Match run: A computerized ranking of transplant candidates based upon donor and candidate medical compatibility and criteria defined in Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) policies. This list is used to allocate each organ.
Medicare: The program of the Federal government that provides hospital and medical insurance, through social security taxes, to people age 65 and over, those who have permanent kidney failure and certain people with disabilities.
Multiple listing: Being on the waiting list for the same organ at more than one transplant center.
Next of kin: Under the Wisconsin Donor Registry, the next of kin list follows this order: 1) a health care agent under a power of attorney for health care, or a person who is otherwise expressly authorized in a record that is signed by the donor to make an ana­tomical gift; 2) a spouse; 3) adult children; 4) parents; 5) adult siblings; 6) adult grandchildren; 7) grandparents; 8) adults who exhibited special care and concern for the decedent; 9) a guardian of the person at the time of death; and 10) any other persons having authority to dispose of the decedent’s body.
Optic nerve:A bundle of more than one million nerve fibers that carry visual messages from the retina to the brain.
Organ: A part of the body made up of tissues and cells that enable it to perform a particular function. Transplantable organs are the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and intestines.
Organ donation: To give an organ or a part of an organ to be transplanted into another person. Organ donation can occur with a deceased donor, who can give kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, intestinal organs, and with a live donor, who can give a kidney, or a portion of the liver, lung, or intestine.
Organ placement process: When organs are donated, the host OPO accesses the national transplant computer system through the Internet, or contacts the Organ Center at UNOS. Information about the donor is entered into the system and a donor/recipient match is run for each donated organ. The resulting match list of potential recipients is ranked according to criteria defined in that organ's allocation policy (e.g., blood type, tissue type, size of the organ, medical urgency of the patient as well as time already spent on the waiting list and distance between donor and recipient). Each organ has its own specific criteria.
Using the match list of potential recipients, the host OPO's organ procurement coordinator or the Organ Placement Specialist in the Organ Center contacts the transplant center of the highest ranked patient, based on policy criteria, to to offer the organ. If the organ is turned down, the next potential recipient's transplant center on the match list is contacted until the organ is placed. Once the organ is accepted for a patient, transportation arrangements are made and transplant surgery is scheduled. See also: Wait List, Waiting Time.
Organ placement specialist: Organ Center personnel responsible for coordinating the organ matching process among OPTN members.
Organ preservation: Methods used to preserve organs while they are out of the body, between procurement from a donor and transplantation into a recipient.
Organ procurement: The removal or retrieval of organs from a donor for transplantation.
Organ Procurement Organization (OPO): An organization designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). An OPO is responsible for the procurement of organs for transplantation, hospital services, donor family services and the promotion of organ donation. OPOs serve as the vital link between the donor and recipient and are responsible for the identification of donors and the retrieval, preservation and transportation of organs for transplantation. They are also involved in data follow-up regarding deceased organ donors. As a resource to the community OPOs engage in public education on the critical need for organ donation. See also Donation Service Area (DSA).
Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN): In 1987, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act that mandated the establishment of the OPTN and Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. The purpose of the OPTN is to improve the effectiveness of the nation’s organ procurement, donation and transplantation system by increasing the availability of and access to donor organs for patients with end-stage organ failure. The Act stipulated that the Network be a non-profit, private sector entity comprised of all U.S. transplant centers, organ procurement organizations and histocompatibility laboratories. These members, along with professional and voluntary health care organizations and representatives of the general public, are governed by a Board of Directors that reports to the Division of Transplantation, HRSA and ultimately HHS. UNOS holds the OPTN contract.
Osteoarticular graft: An allograft that is composed of the bone, articular cartilage and tendons of a joint that is used to replace a diseased or damaged joint in the recipient. In many cases the use of an osteoarticular allograft can prevent the amputation of a limb.
Osteochondral graft: An allograft consisting of cartilage.
Osteoinductive: The ability of a material or substance to induce undifferentiated cells within the marrow or connective tissue to differentiate into cells capable of producing bone.
Pancreas: Irregularly shaped gland that lies behind the stomach and secretes pancreatic enzymes into the small intestines to aid in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Islet cells within the pancreas secrete glucagon, which regulates blood sugar levels and insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels. If the pancreas fails, the individual becomes diabetic and may need to take insulin. The pancreas can be donated and transplanted.
Patient survival: The length of time a patient survives after receiving a transplant.
Placement: The process of allocating donated organs via the match system.
Potential donor: A patient who meets the criteria for brain death with no absolute contraindications to organ donation as defined by a standardized list from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision.
Procurement: The surgical procedure of removing an organ from a donor. Also referred to as “recovery.”
Pupil: The opening at the center of the iris. The iris adjusts the size of the pupil and controls the amount of light that can enter the eye.
Recipient: A person who receives a transplant.
Recovery (organ): The surgical procedure of removing an organ or organs and/or tissue from a donor.
Rejection: A phenomenon that occurs when a recipient's immune system attacks a transplanted organ, tissue, or cell. Immunosuppressive drugs help prevent or treat rejection.
Renal: Having to do with, or referring to, the kidneys.
Retina: The light-sensitive tissue lining at the back of the eye. The retina converts light into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain through the optic nerve.
Re-transplantation: Due to rejection or failure of a transplanted organ, some patients receive another transplant.
Retrieval: The surgical procedure of organ, tissue or eye recovery. Also referred to as “procurement.”
Sclera: The sclera is the white outer wall of the eye. It is a tough, fibrous tissue that extends from thecornea to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The sclera gives the eye its white color.
Spinal fusion: A surgical procedure designed to stabilize and immobilize adjacent vertebrae. This procedure is performed for a variety of reasons, including herniated disks, degenerative diseases and traumatic injury. The use of allograft/autograft bone is very common. The process may be used alone or in conjunction with various manmade prosthetic devices.
Split liver: A split liver transplant occurs when the donor liver is divided into segments and then transplanted. These segments may be transplanted into more than one recipient, or a segment could be transplanted into a child for whom an entire adult liver would be too large.
Status: An indication of the degree of medical urgency for patients awaiting heart or liver transplants. Examples: status 1A, status 1B, or status 2.
Survival rates: Survival rates indicate the percentage of patients that are alive and the grafts (organs) that are still functioning after a certain amount of time. Survival rates are used in developing OPTN policy.
Tissue: An organization of a great many similar cells that perform a special function. Examples of tissues that can be transplanted are blood, bones, bone marrow, corneas, heart valves, ligaments, saphenous, veins, skin and tendons.
Tissue typing: A blood test that evaluates how closely the tissues of the donor match those of the recipient.
Transplant center: A hospital that performs transplants, including qualifying patients for transplant, registering patients on the national waiting list, performing transplant surgery and providing care before and after transplant.
Transplant team: The diverse group of professionals at a transplant center who work to make a transplant successful. Each person on the "transplant team" is an expert in a different area of transplantation. The transplant team includes all or some of these professionals:
  • Clinical transplant coordinators have responsibility for the patient's evaluation, treatment, and follow-up care.
  • Transplant physicians are doctors who manage the patient's medical care, tests, and medications. He or she does not perform surgery. The transplant physician works closely with the transplant coordinator to coordinate the patient's care until transplanted, and in some centers, provides follow-up care to the recipient.
  • Transplant surgeons perform the transplant surgery and may provide the follow-up care for the recipient. The transplant surgeon has special training to perform transplants.
  • Financial coordinators have detailed knowledge of financial matters and hospital billing. The financial coordinator works with other members of the transplant team, insurers, and administrative personnel to coordinate and clarify the financial aspects of the patient's care before, during, and after the transplant.
  • Social workers help patients and their families understand and cope with a variety of issues associated with a patient's illness and/or various side-effects of the transplant itself.

United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): The private, nonprofit membership organization that coordinates the nation's transplant system through HRSA's OPTN contract. As OPTN contractor, UNOS is responsible for meeting all contract requirements. As contractor since the first OPTN contract award in 1986, UNOS has established and continually strives to improve tools, systems and quality processes that support OPTN contract objectives and requirements. These include:
  • Managing the national organ transplant waiting list
  • Collecting, managing and reporting of sensitive clinical data in a secure, fail-safe environment
  • Facilitating an open, inclusive forum for development and continuous refinement of evidence-based policies and standards
  • Member and policy performance assessment to ensure equitable, safe treatment of candidates and recipients
  • Increasing donation and making the most of every organ that is donated through professional education, outcomes research, patient services and resources and public and professional education
  • Continuously improving the care, quality of life and outcomes of organ transplant candidates and recipients
Ventilator: A machine that "breathes" for a patient when the patient is not able to breathe properly.
Vitreous gel: A clear gel that fills the eye.
Wait list: The list of candidates registered to receive organ transplants. When a donor organ becomes available, the matching system generates a new, more specific list of potential recipients based on the criteria defined in that organ's allocation policy (e.g., organ type, geographic local and regional area, genetic compatibility measures, details about the condition of the organ, the candidate's disease severity, time spent waiting, etc.).
Waiting time: The amount of time a candidate is on the national wait list. Waiting times can be influenced by many factors, including:
  • Blood type (some are rarer than others)
  • Tissue type
  • Height and weight of transplant candidate
  • Size of donated organ
  • Medical urgency
  • Ttime on the waiting list
  • The distance between the donor's hospital and the potential recipient
  • How many donors there are in the local area over a period of time, and the transplant center's criteria for accepting organ offers

Organ and Tissue Donation FAQsHere are some helpful answers to common questions about organ and tissue donation and becoming an organ and tissue donor.
Why is organ, eye and tissue donation so important?
More than 1,500 Wisconsin families are currently waiting for a life-saving transplant. Thousands more await tissue, bone, skin and corneas. One donor can save or improve the lives of more than 50 people. Donated organs are used to save the lives of people with organ failure. Donated corneas restore vision to the blind. Donated skin, bone and tissue help repair defects, promote faster healing, save limbs and can save the lives of those with severe burns. Heart valves give patients a chance to resume normal life.
Will the doctors do everything they can to try and save me if they know my wishes to be a donor?
Donation is only considered after all efforts to save a patient’s life have been exhausted by the medical team. Organ recovery only occurs after death has been declared. The Organ Procurement Organization is a separate team of people from the medical team that is treating the patient. This ensures that there is no conflict of interest.
Is organ, eye and tissue donation difficult on the donating family?
Donation may provide immediate and long-term consolation, especially in light of sudden, unexpected circumstances. The family members of the donor often feel encouraged that something good has come out of something tragic.
May I become a donor if I have had cancer?
It may be possible to be a donor if you have had cancer. At the time of donation, medical professionals will assess your organs and tissues and determine if they are suitable for transplantation. Each donor is evaluated on an individual basis.
What is the age limit for organ, eye and tissue donation?
There are no set age limits for donation, meaning people of any age may become a donor. Advances in technology allow more people than ever to be donors, including older adults and those with previous medical conditions. At the time of death, medical professionals will evaluate whether an individual’s organs and tissues can be transplanted. Medical eligibility depends on many factors and must be determined after the donor's death. Every donor is thoroughly screened and tested before donation can take place. This screening includes comprehensive medical and social histories, including high-risk behaviors for transmissible diseases that automatically eliminate any possibility of donation.
Is there a difference between tissue and organ donation?
For organ donation to occur, the patient must be in a hospital on a ventilator and have been declared deceased due to loss of brain or cardiac function. The organs must be quickly recovered, properly preserved and transplanted quickly. Organs must be carefully matched to waiting recipients. Matching is done according to factors such as blood type, medical status of the recipient and size of the waiting recipient. Tissue donation occurs in the first 24 hours after the heart has stopped beating. The tissues can be preserved and used at a later date. Consequently, there are many more potential tissue donors than organ donors. Tissue recipients do not have to be matched to their donors, as rejection is not generally a concern.
What is the cost to the donor family?
There is no cost to the donor family. All costs for recovery of donated organs, eyes and tissues are passed on to transplant recipients and their insurance providers. The donor’s family pays only for the medical care provided before death and normal funeral expenses. Organ, tissue and eye donation is a gift. It is illegal in the United States to buy or sell organs or tissues.
Will donation affect the appearance of the donor?
Great care is taken to preserve the donor’s appearance through the delicate surgical procedures that occur during organ and tissue recovery. Incisions and areas of tissue donation can be covered by clothing. Open-casket services can occur following donation. The recovering agency will make certain the body is released to the funeral home on time. No extra planning is required by families of organ and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care, respect and dignity.
Does my religion allow donation?
Most major religions in the U.S. support donation as a gift of life to fellow human beings. The vast majority of religious groups support donation as the highest gesture of humanitarianism. Some religions have taken a proactive stance with a resolution, or adopted a position, that encourages people to seriously consider donation and plan accordingly.  See Theological Perspectives.

How long can organs and tissues survive before being transplanted?
Thanks to advances in medical technology and improved preservation techniques, organs, tissues and corneas may be transported to reach recipients waiting in transplant centers. Approximate preservation times are:
  • Heart/lung: 4 to 6 hours
  • Pancreas: 12 to 24 hours
  • Liver: 6 to 8 hours
  • Kidneys: 24 to 72 hours
  • Corneas: Must be transplanted within 5 to 7 days
  • Heart valves, skin, bone, tendons, veins: May be preserved from 3 to 5 years
Can organs and tissues be donated to someone of a different race or ethnicity?
Yes. Organ size is critical to matching the donor and recipient for hearts, livers and lungs. But genetic makeup is also important when matching kidneys; therefore, African-Americans will "match" better with a kidney donated from an African-American than any other race — as will Asians with Asians, etc. For an allograft (human to human tissue transplant), you do not need to have a “match” to receive a tissue transplant. For cornea transplantation, the best match is based on size and age of the cornea.
How is a potential organ recipient identified?
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) maintains the national computer system listing of donors and candidates for transplant. Recipients are identified through a comprehensive evaluation of medical compatibility, including size and blood type, medical urgency and geographic location. The social or financial positions of the recipient are not factors in determining who is transplanted. Wealthy or famous people do not get priority for organs.
Does the donor’s family get to meet the recipient?
A donor’s family will be told the age, sex, state and other general characteristics of recipients. If both the donor family and the recipient agree to sign a release of information form, available through the Organ Procurement Organization, Tissue Bank or Lion’s Eye Bank, they may then exchange names, correspond and eventually meet if they so choose.
Why is it important for me to talk about donation with my family?
Many people don’t like to discuss end-of-life situations; however, talking about donation is different than talking about death. When you share your donation decision with your family, you are talking about the opportunity to help others and to ensure that your family understands your wishes.
What role do hospitals or health care professionals play in the decision to donate?
Hospitals work with organ procurement organizations, tissue and eye banks to offer families the option of donation and work with them to honor their decision. County Medical Examiners and Coroners also work with tissue and eye banks to provide families with the opportunity of donation.
How else can I help people in need of an organ or tissue transplant?
You can help save lives by making a financial contribution (Link to Charitable Giving) or by volunteering your time (Link to Volunteering). Financial gifts are used to create materials for our education and awareness efforts. Without these materials, we couldn’t spread the word about the desperate need for organ and tissue donation.
Your gift can be made in honor of someone or in recognition of an event, anniversary or achievement, or in memory of a loved one. If you’d like, we will even send a letter to the person you designate, and the letter will acknowledge your contribution.
You can make a gift online. If you have any questions, please call the Foundation Office at (414) 937-6799.
Our mailing address is:
Foundation Office
BloodCenter of Wisconsin
P.O. Box 2178
Milwaukee, WI 53201-2178
All gifts are tax-deductible as allowed by law. BloodCenter of Wisconsin is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

Giving to Research
To make new discoveries, it takes knowledge, skill, passion and you.
Learn more
BCW Impact
BloodCenter impacts patients every day through our commitment to discovery, diagnosis, treatment and cure. Find out how, together with your support, we give hope to others in need.

Hear the story