Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I become a donor? 

A. When receiving or renewing a Rhode Island state driver’s license, you will be asked if you wish to become an organ and/or tissue donor. The information you provide goes into a donor registry database accessible by the organ procurement organization (OPO) in the event you become a potential donor. If you answer “YES” to the question, this is considered legal consent for donation. Anyone age 18 and over can also sign a uniform donor card. If you are under the age of 18, at least one parent or legal guardian must be a co-signer. A signed donor card is also legal consent for donation! You should also make your wishes known to your family. 

Q. Will efforts to save my life be lessened if the hospital staff knows I have a signed donor card or if I am on the donor registry? 

A. Absolutely not. The goal of Emergency Room and hospital staff is to save your life. The organ and tissue donation team does not become involved until after it has been determined that all efforts to save a patient’s life have failed. 

Q. What do I do if I make a decision about donation and then change my mind? 

A. You may contact your local DMV office and they will update your information in the donor registry and instruct you on modifying your license. You should also obtain or destroy your donor card and be sure to make your wishes known to your family. 

Q. What are OPOs? 

A. OPOs are organizations that coordinate activities related to organ and tissue donation for transplant in a designated service area. OPOs are responsible for evaluating potential donors, discussing donation with family members, and arranging for the procurement procedure. Facilitating the placement of organs for transplant, providing preservation services, and arranging organ transportation are also responsibilities of the OPO. 

Q. What can be donated? 

A. Organs that may be donated following death include: heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, and small intestine. Corneas, skin, bone, heart valves, connective tissue and blood vessels are all examples of tissues that can be donated after cardiac death. Total body donation for medical research and education is also an option. 

Q. What kind of diseases affect donation? 

A. Presence of active cancer, active HIV or active infection would absolutely rule-out donation. If a person has a history of Hepatitis, more information would need to be obtained at the time of death. Patients who have Hepatitis C may still donate organs to a patient who also has Hepatitis C. The same is true for Hepatitis B - but this happens less frequently. 

Q. Is there an age limit for donation? 

A. There is no age limit for organ donation. A patient's medical history is more important than the age of the donor. If a patient has a normal functioning organ and is in good health, then organ donation is certainly an option. 

Q. What is brain death? 

A. Brain death is the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function. It can occur following a catastrophic brain injury such as a cerebral hemorrhage or trauma to the head. In such cases, the heart and lungs can continue to function temporarily with artificial respiratory support, allowing the organs to remain viable for donation. Standards for the determination of brain death are very strict, and death based on the absence of brain function is legally recognized in every state and is an accepted medical and ethical principle. 

Q. Does organ and tissue donation leave the body disfigured? 

A. The removal of organs and tissues is performed by qualified doctors and recovery staff. In the hands of a skilled funeral professional, an open-casket viewing will still be able to take place. 

Q. What does “Routine Notification” mean? 

A. All hospitals are required by federal law to contact their affiliated OPO in a timely manner about individuals who die or whose death is imminent. If the individual is medically suitable, the donor registry database will be accessed to determine if he or she is a registered donor, and/or the legal next-of-kin will be contacted and offered the option of donation. 

Q. How are recipients matched to donor organs? 

A. Persons waiting for transplants are listed at their local transplant center, and also on a national computerized waiting list. When organs become available, several factors are taken into consideration. These factors include blood and tissue type of the donor and recipient, and other recipient information such as weight, medical condition, time spent on the waiting list, and urgency of need. Geographic location is also a factor, as timing is critical and transportation times must be kept to a minimum. UNOS, the United Network of Organ Sharing, maintains the national computerized waiting list and is dedicated to providing fair and equitable placement of donated organs. 

Q. Do all religions support organ and tissue donation?

A. Yes. Every major religion supports donation and considers it the greatest gift a person can give.

Q. Isn’t it true that organs can be “bought” by the wealthy and the powerful? 

A. Organs are computer matched according to compatibility of donor and recipient tissue, determined by various tests, waiting time, and the medical need of the recipient. Social or financial data are not part of the computer database and therefore, are not factors in the determination of who receives and organ.

Q. How successful are organ transplants? 

A. Success rates for vital organs average 80 - 90 percent, and over 90 percent for various types of tissue transplants. Q. Do all religions support organ and tissue donation? A. Yes. Every major religion supports donation and considers it the greatest gift a person can give.