Myths & Terminology

Organ Donation Myths

Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the U.S. Violators can be punished with prison sentences and fines.
When you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the one and only priority is to save your life. Period. Donation doesn't become a possibility until all lifesaving methods have failed.
A national computer system matches donated organs to recipients. The factors used in matching include blood type, time spent waiting, other important medical information, how sick the person is, and geographic location. Race, income, and celebrity are NEVER considered.
The majority of deceased organ donors are patients who have been declared brain dead. But brain death is NOT the same as coma. People can recover from comas, but not from brain death. Brain death is final.
Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will determine at an individual's time of death whether donation is possible. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.
There's no age limit to organ donation. To date, the oldest donor in the U.S. was age 93. What matters is the health and condition of your organs when you die.
An open casket funeral is usually possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care, respect, and dignity.
There is no policy or federal regulation that excludes a member of the LGBT community from donating organs. What matters in donating organs is the health of the organs.
The United States is the world leader in organ transplants per million population, both total transplants and deceased donor transplants. We completed 2019 with more than a 10% increase in organ donation, building on nine years of record setting growth.

Terminology & Glossary

The language we use reflects and influences the attitudes we hold. For organ donation, we use language that honors and dignifies people.

We say recovered, not ‘harvested’ because donors are people, not agriculture. We say deceased instead of ‘cadaveric’ to honor the donor’s humanity, and the life they lived.

Beyond that, it’s important to be clear and accurate. People have very little knowledge of donation, and it can be very confusing if the language isn’t clear. A primary example is using ventilator support instead of life support because in the instance of a brain dead donor, they have already passed away and therefore the ventilator is not sustaining their life.
Correct Terminology
Recover Organs "Harvest" Organs
Deceased Donor "Cadaveric" Donor
Ventilator Support "Life" Support
Waiting List "Donor" List
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a full list of organ donation terminology here:

Here are some key terms to use:
The process of determining how organs are distributed. Allocation includes the system of policies and guidelines which ensure that organs are distributed in an equitable, ethical and medically sound manner.
Brain Death
Brain death occurs when the brain is totally and irreversibly non-functional. Brain death is caused by not enough blood supply of oxygen which causes the brain cells to die.
Deceased Donor
A person who has been declared dead and whose organs and/or tissues have been donated for transplantation.
Match Run
The list that is generated when an organ donor's information is entered into the national waiting list computer system to identify potential recipients.
Organ Procurement Organizations (OPO)
Local organizations throughout the U.S. designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are responsible for increasing the number of registered donors in their service areas, and for coordinating the donation process when actual donors become available. OPOs evaluate potential donors, discuss donation with surviving family members, and arrange for the surgical removal and transport of donated organs. To increase donor registration, OPOs implement community outreach strategies to encourage people to sign up in their state donor registry.
Deceased Donor
A person who has been declared dead and whose organs and/or tissues have been donated for transplantation.
The surgical procedure of removing an organ, corneas or other tissue(s) from a donor. See Recovery.
Procurement Coordinator
Staff member of the OPO, typically a nurse, paramedic or other medically trained individual who is responsible for evaluating potential donors, discussing donation with family members, medically managing the donor prior to the recovery of organs and tissues and arranging for the donation process (removal and transport of donated organs).
Transplant Coordinator
A transplant center staff member responsible for managing the care and progress of potential transplant recipients before, during and after the transplantation.
Transplant Recipient
A person who has received a tissue or organ transplant.
United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
The private, nonprofit membership organization that coordinates the national matching system, the OPTN, under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As OPTN contractor, UNOS HRSA Exit Disclaimer has established and continually strives to improve tools, systems and quality processes that support OPTN contract objectives and requirements.
Waiting List
A national database maintained by the OPTN of all patients waiting for an organ transplant. It is made up of sublists of patients waiting for specific organs. See Match Run.