Sometimes the only cure for someone suffering and dying is to receive a new organ. Hearts, livers, lungs, skin, corneas and other organs are harvested from those who have just passed away. Those vital organs are put into the bodies of the living. Nearly 100,000 people are waiting for organs in the U.S. Many will perish before they get one. Many will get a second chance at life.

Many people have reservations about organ donation 1. The main concerns swirl around the treatment of the body and any religious restrictions.

A Profundity of "Pros"

The pros of organ donation are obvious: Someone who will surely die receives a new organ and has a chance at life 1. Under some circumstances, one death might result in the continued life of several people. Depending on the conditions at death and the proximity to a major medical center, many organs could be harvested from the same body.

Sometimes relatives of the donor feel that if the organs go into young, deserving people, then their loss was not in vain. They believe that some good came from a tragic situation. Often an exchange of letters is possible between the organ recipient and the family of the donor. Donor families take some consolation in knowing that some part of their loved one continues in life.

Donating the Whole Body

If someone donates his body, it is usually used by medical students to practice surgical techniques. The “pros” here are that the young doctors need to become as proficient as possible in the techniques used to save other’s lives. Working with cadavers is an invaluable experience in their medical training. There are no adequate simulations of a human cadaver.

Considering a "Con"

Most religions now allow organ donation, so that is no long a "con. 1"

Families might be confused by the fact that donor bodies are often kept on life support while the tissues are removed. Surgeons do not remove any tissues unless the person is brain dead, but they sometimes put the body on a ventilator to keep the heart pumping fresh blood into the tissues to keep them alive long enough to harvest. This is not the same as life, but there is a moment when the ventilator is removed and the heart stops.

One “con” might be that the donor does not usually get to choose who the organs go to, and perhaps an organ will go to someone of a different faith, political viewpoint or temperament than the donor. The donor has to believe that all life is sacred and that anyone who receives the "ultimate gift" of a donor organ will be grateful and be imbued with a sense of gratitude and a desire to pay it forward.

The Downside of Whole Body Donation

For the sensitive donor, there are some “cons” to body donation. The fact is that the body is kept for more time than when only donating organs. It might be in the facility for days or weeks. The body may be in an operating theater and viewed by many people. The use of the body does not directly save anyone’s life, but aids in training doctors to save lives.

Movies have made us believe that cadavers are misused by medical students for practical jokes. While it can’t be said this has never happened, most institutions have procedures in place to guard against this, and most medical students are serious and simply don’t have the time to fool around with cadavers.

Note that while medical students quickly develop a utilitarian attitude toward the cadavers, an individual might have a strong emotional reaction to a cadaver, especially if the donor’s body reminds the student of someone she knows.

Living Donors

It is possible to donate organs while you are still alive. Living people can donate a kidney, portions of the liver, lung, pancreas and intestines, as well as blood, and go on to live healthy lives. Most often it is relatives who do living tissue donation. It is possible, however, to register for completely humanitarian reasons and give organs to a stranger. Some illegal organ trafficking does occur; the World Health Organization estimates that as many as one-fifth of kidney donations may not be legitimately acquired 3.

Sign the Card

Anyone can become an organ donor. All that is necessary is to sign a card (see You can register directly with the donor registry or sign the back of your driver's license. Children must have their parents' consent to become an organ donor. Even people who are sick may have some organs to offer to someone who needs them, or they may donate their bodies in entirety.