You may or may not be an organ donor as you read this article. You will however likely have your own opinions on the subject either way. What’s important to know is where those opinions come from, and if there may be a bias that is from a lack of information then hopefully this can help you learn more about the process.
Many think that becoming a donor means that a dead body is harvested of its organs. While it is a morbid image, the reality is a much calmer process in most instances. Indeed, oftentimes while the brain is technically dead, the body is very much alive (albeit often on life support systems.) They may have a tiny amount of functional brain capacity, but a physician or neurosurgeon of comparable caliber to dr timothy steel must decide that you will never be able to recover.
What follows then is a meeting with any family members, in order to allow closure before the process begins. Oftentimes the family are prepared for this due to the nature of the injury that would cause such a state, be it a severe brain injury or cardiac arrest, and while this does not make the passing any easier it can at least give them peace in knowing that their loved one will go on to help another and no longer feel pain from the injury at hand.
After all, a person who is brain dead is legally dead. Even if they are still breathing with assistance from a ventilator, for all intents and purposes who they were is gone. This is, again, a decision made by a trained physician, not by anyone involved with the organ transplant team.
Ideally, the individual is free from disease or illness. If the donor has cancer or an infection like COVID-19, their organs might not be viable for transplant. This is not a blanket yes or no, however, as not all diseases prevent organs from being used. For example, an HIV-positive donor can donate to an HIV-positive recipient. They are transplanting organs on a regular basis that are hepatitis A-, B-, C- positive, and these can be life changing for those who receive them.
What follows is a sanitization of the body, scans, blood tests and other medical checks to ensure that the organs will be healthy and able to be used. If they are, then a cold preservation fluid is added to the body before surgery begins to extract the organs in question, moving them fast to suitable storage and to the location where the receiver is based. This is a very time-sensitive matter, as these body parts do not last long. The heart and lungs can only last 4 to 6 hours outside of the body, the pancreas 12 to 24 hours, the liver up to 24 hours and the kidneys 48 to 72 hours.
However, if organs are not suitable for clinical transplantation, they can be used for educational purposes instead so they do not go to waste. You can check it out online if you are interested. Sometimes it is nice to know if and how your body can be utilized if it can’t be used as a donor. This way, others can learn from these parts how to do surgeries and the like in the future. While not as directly life saving as an implant, the sentiment can easily be seen to be the same: That doctor in training could save someone with a similar condition in years to come. Either way, once this is done the body is then sewn back up and prepared for their final rites. At this stage, the family is often given custody back so that they can do what they feel is best for them.
Becoming an organ donor can mean that, even after you pass on, someone else who would have done the same can live. Even after you are gone, a part of you still lives and helps another experience the world. It can be a lot to think about, but the reality is that organ donation saves lives. With understanding comes more chances for you to better consider if you would like to become a donor, as it clears the air of the stigma that can surround the act. No matter what, the body is respected in the passing and coming days, and while death can be a very sensitive topic, helping another live should be a benefit all on its own.