Did you know that old people can be organ donors? I didn't. Until recently.
I had just assumed that after a certain age (I never put any thought to what the cutoff would be), one's heart, lungs, pancreas, kidneys, corneas, liver, skin and other parts would be too old and worn out to do any good for another person.
But it just is not so. As explained at the organdonor.gov website, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS),
”People of all ages can sign up to be donors. In their 50s, 60s, even into their 70s and older. And, people over 50 can be transplant recipients as well.”
According to HHS organ donor pages, you do not have to be in perfect health, even people with certain medical conditions can donate and usefulness for donation is determined at death.
Obviously, the decision to take organs and tissue for donation must be made quickly after the time of death so if you are inclined to do this, it is smart to let your family and physician know, and to include that wish in your end-of-life documents such as your will, living will, health proxy, advance directive, DNR (do not resuscitate), etc.
If you have never thought about becoming a donor, consider these facts:
• more than 120,000 people are waiting for an organ
• 22 people die each day waiting for an organ
• 1 organ donor can save up to 8 lives
What an amazing amount of good we each can do by becoming a transplant donor. Here are some more reasons from the organdonor.gov website [emphasis is mine]:
• Organ and tissue transplants are needed by people in every corner of America.
• People of all ages, infants to grandparents, are on the national transplant waiting list.
• Two thirds of the individuals waiting for an organ transplant in 2014 were 50 years old or older. That year 2,371 deceased donors were between 50–64 years of age. Six hundred and fourteen deceased donors were 65 or older.
• In 2014, 18,182 of the 29,532 - or 61.6% - of the people transplanted were 50+.
• As of May 2015, according to OPTN, there are 55,282 people between 50 and 64 years old on the national waiting list and 25,908 people over 65 years old on the national waiting list.
For all my adult life, I have checked that box on my driving license to be a donor without much thought; we never think seriously about dying when we are young. But at the age I am now, 74, I'm as likely to die in a hospital of something related to age as in a car accident so while researching this story, I signed up as a donor in my state.
You can do that too at the organdonor.gov website. It's easy.
- Choose your state of residence from the box in the right side of the green banner and click Go
- Fill in the form with name, address, date of birth, etc.
- Follow instructions to print the confirmation
- File it with your end-of-life documents
The signup process may differ slightly from state to state. In mine, I could choose to not allow my organs or tissue to be used for medical research. I can't think why I would care but the choice is there for people who want it.
The organdonor.gov website covers just about every question I could come up with and some that hadn't occurred to me such as that “most religions” do not object to organ donation.
There is a good and short brochure especially for elders about organ donation from Health and Human Services Department [pdf].
Additional information for age 50-plus donors here.
The sign-up page is here.
Organ donation is such a good thing to do. It doesn't cost you or your family a dime. Organs are removed as in live surgery so there can be an open-casket funeral and consider this: what better legacy can you leave behind than the gift of life for another person.