Organ Donor Facts vs. Myths

Can I donate an organ only to a family member? Does my religion allow organ donation? Find out what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to organ donation.

Did you know that just one organ donor can save up to eight lives? Or that you can become a living organ donor? Currently, there are more than 108,000 people on the national transplant waiting list in need of an organ.

“Becoming an organ donor not only saves the life of the recipient — but also saves the lives of countless others on the transplant list,” says Dr. Benjamin Samstein, surgical director of the living donor transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian and associate professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine.

In recognition of Organ Donor Enrollment Day on October 8, here are 11 facts you might not know about organ donation — and the countless ways you can help as a registered or living organ donor.

1. MYTH: “I can be an organ donor only if I’m deceased.”
FACT: In addition to deceased donors, living donors can also save lives. It’s possible for a living person to donate a kidney, a portion of the liver, and, in rare instances, a portion of the intestines, the pancreas, or a lung.

2. MYTH: “There are enough organs available in New York State. I don’t need to become a registered organ donor.”
FACT: Only 39% of New York State residents are registered organ donors. In comparison, the nationwide average is 58%. This statistic, coupled with the fact that every 18 hours someone in New York State dies waiting for an organ highlights why there aren’t enough organs donated to meet the needs of patients throughout the state. In addition, the average wait for a kidney transplant is more than five years. Learn more about organ donation in New York State from LiveOnNY.

3. MYTH: “I can donate only to someone I know or a family member.”
FACT: You can, in fact, donate to a stranger, family member, or friend. It’s also possible to donate an organ to a person from another racial or ethnic group and even a different age group.

4. MYTH: “I’m too young/old to donate my organs.”
FACT: Although you must be 16 years old to sign up on the New York State Donate Life Registry, age isn’t a factor in all donations. Organs have been transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s, and even 90-year-olds have donated their livers in the United States.

5. MYTH: “I’m too sick and have too many health problems to become an organ donor.”
FACT: Very few medical conditions disqualify you from donating organs and tissues. While certain organs may not be suitable for transplant, other organs and tissues may be fine.

6. MYTH: “It’s against my religion to donate.”
FACT: All major religions publicly endorse organ donation as the highest gesture of humanitarianism, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, and most branches of Judaism. Within a religion, however, there might be different schools of thought. Consult with your religious adviser if you have doubts or questions.

7. MYTH: “If I’m facing a life-or-death situation, doctors won’t try as hard to save my life.”
FACT: Medical professionals caring for a patient do everything possible to save a patient’s life, regardless of their organ donor status. If a patient becomes a potential organ donor, a separate team will discuss this option with the patient’s family.

8. MYTH: “Only those who are wealthy or celebrities receive organ transplants.”
FACT: The organ transplant waiting list is blind to wealth and celebrity status. People receive organs based on the severity of the illness, time spent on the waiting list, and blood type. Last year more than 39,000 people received organ transplants due to the gift of life, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

9. MYTH: “Being a registered organ donor will interfere with being buried after I or a loved one dies.”
FACT: Organ donation will not delay funeral arrangements or change any funeral plans. Additionally, open-casket viewing is possible after any type of donation.

10. MYTH: “I can’t be a living organ donor during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
FACT: While some transplant programs temporarily postponed living organ donation surgeries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all continued to perform lifesaving transplant surgeries. Nearly all transplant hospitals throughout the United States have resumed transplantation of living and deceased organs. Despite COVID-19, more than 25,000 transplants (living and deceased) have taken place in the U.S. so far in 2020.

11. MYTH: “It’s difficult to become a registered organ donor in New York State.”
FACT: There are several ways to register and become an organ donor in New York:

  • Check off the donor box on your driver’s license application or renewal form.
  • Register online at LiveOnNY.org.
  • Sign up when you register to vote.
  • Enroll when you apply for a NYC Municipal ID.
  • Register when signing up for health insurance on the New York State Health Benefit Exchange. During insurance enrollment, residents will be asked, “Would you like to be added to the Donate Life Registry?”
  • If you’re interested in becoming a living organ donor, take these first steps.

NewYork-Presbyterian performs living donor kidney and liver transplants at both NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. To learn more, please visit nyp.org/transplant or check out our amazing patient stories.