Organ & Tissue Donation Frequently Asked Questions

License and ID

  1. Question: If I am already a registered organ and tissue donor and have a heart on my current license, do I have to sign up again?

    Answer: Yes. Even if you are currently a registered donor, you still need to check “yes” on question 1 of the Class D, M, or D/M License and ID Card Application in order to remain in the donor registry.

  2. Question: What does the heart symbol on my license/ID card represent?

    Answer: The heart symbol indicates that you are in the Massachusetts Donor Registry and have consented to organ and tissue donation.

  3. Question: What is the "Massachusetts Donor Registry"?

    Answer: The Donor Registry is a database that contains the names of everyone who has signed up to be an organ and tissue donor at the RMV.  The database is checked (via computer) when necessary.  This eliminates the need to look for a donor card or a license which could be misplaced or lost.

  4. Question: Do you need to carry a donor card with your license (in addition to having the heart symbol)?

    Answer: No, you do not need to carry a donor card if you have the heart symbol on your license. The heart symbol indicates that you are in the Massachusetts Donor Registry and have consented to organ and tissue donation. The Donor Registry is checked whenever an individual becomes a potential candidate for donation.

  5. Question: Can someone who is under 18 register to be an organ and tissue donor?

    Answer: Yes, a driver who is under the age of 18 can register to be an organ and tissue donor with the Donor Registry.

  6. Question: How do I become an organ and tissue donor?

    Answer: When you apply for a Massachusetts driver's license or ID, there is a question on the Class D, M, or D/M License and ID Card Application asking if you want to become an organ and tissue donor.  By checking “yes” and registering as an organ and tissue donor with the RMV, you will be entered into the Massachusetts Donor Registry, which is legal consent for donation.   It is also important to share your decision to donate with your family and friends so that they know about your decision to become an organ and tissue donor.

  7. Question: Can I donate certain organs and tissues? In other words, can I pick and choose which organs and tissues I want to donate?

    Answer: There is no option in the Massachusetts Donor Registry to pick and choose which organs and tissues one wishes to donate. If you are interested in donating only certain organs or tissues, then you should fill out a donor card and indicate those choices on the card instead of signing up with the Donor Registry.  Also, be sure to talk to your family about your wishes.

  8. Question: If I donate organs and tissues, will my body be disfigured so that I won't be able to have a normal funeral?

    Answer: You can still receive a traditional burial or cremation if you donate. Donated organs and tissues are removed surgically. Careful attention is made so that an open casket funeral is still an option if that is your choice.

  9. Question: Will the quality of my medical care be compromised if I sign up to donate organs and tissues?

    Answer: No. If you are sick or injured, the number one priority of the medical team is to save your life. Organ and tissue donation can be pursued only after all efforts to save your life have failed, after you are declared dead, and after your family has been consulted or consent has been attained through the Donor Registry.

  10. Question: What major religious organizations in the United States support organ and tissue donation?

    Answer: Religious groups including Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths support organ and tissue donation as a charitable gift of life consistent with the basic tenets of their faiths.

  11. Question: Who can donate organs and tissues?

    Answer: People of all ages may be eligible to donate organs and tissues. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

    People who have died by brain death criteria (cessation of brain function usually due to a traumatic injury or stroke) can often donate organs and tissue, unless there are other reasons for a medical rule-out. Patients who die after the cessation of heart and lung function following a family's decision to withdraw ventilator support can also be considered for organ and tissue donation - this is referred to as Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD).

    Tissue donation is different from organ and tissue donation in that many more people are likely to be eligible for tissue donation. Tissue can be recovered from donors up to 24 hours after death has been determined by either brain death or cardiac death criteria.

  12. Question: What organs and tissues can be donated?

    Answer: Heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, liver, small bowel, bone and associated tendons, blood vessels, heart valves, skin, and corneas. Organs are allocated through the United Network for Organ Sharing. Tissues recovered by New England Organ Bank (NEOB) are first processed for safety and preservation purposes before they are transplanted.

  13. Question: Can organs and tissues be donated for use in research?

    Answer: Organs and tissues from donors from the Donor Registry are only recovered for the purpose of transplantation. Should information come to light after the recovery procedure to indicate that an organ or tissue is not suitable for transplantation, an effort will be made to place the organ or tissue in an approved research program.

  14. Question: Why aren't there enough organs and tissues to meet the need?

    Answer: Over time, transplants have become more successful and more people have been added to the national waiting list. However, the number of donors has not grown as fast as the number of people that need organs and tissue. Every day, 17 people in the United States die waiting for organ and tissue transplants. Every 13 minutes another person's name is added to the list of thousands who await lifesaving organ and tissue transplants. Currently, there are over 98,000 total patients waiting for a transplant in the United States. Thousands more await life enhancing tissue transplants.

  15. Question: Will it cost my family anything if I donate organs and tissues?

    Answer: Organ and tissue donation is completely free. A donor's family is not charged for donation.

  16. Question: Does a patient who is rich or influential receive special consideration in organ and tissue distribution?

    Answer: Although celebrities get most of the media attention, the fact is that thousands of other patients receive donated organs and tissue as well. Donor organs and tissues are matched to recipients based on blood and tissue type, geographic location, and medical urgency. Organ and tissue allocation is blind to wealth or social status. Further, factors such as race, gender, age, or celebrity status are not considered when determining who receives an organ or tissue.

  17. Question: How long do patients have to wait for a donated organ or tissue?

    Answer: There is no set amount of time, and there is no way to know how long a patient must wait to receive a donor organ or tissue. Factors that affect waiting times are patient medical status, the availability of donors in the local area and the level of match between the donor and the recipient.  Organs and tissues are usually first made available to the sickest patients in the region where the organ or tissue was donated. If there is no medical match in that area, then the organ or tissue is offered to patients in a broader geographic area.

  18. Question: What are the steps involved in organ and tissue donation and transplantation?

    Answer: Hospitals notify the Organ Procurement Organization (in this area, New England Organ Bank and/or Life Choice Donor Services) of the impending death of a patient. The OPO staff makes an initial determination about medical disqualifications for organ and tissue donation.  If there are no disqualifications immediately apparent, a trained donation professional goes to the hospital to further evaluate the patient and, if the patient has not already consented to donation through a motor vehicle office, ask the next of kin if they are willing to donate the patient's organs and tissues. Using the national computerized waiting list, the OPO staff matches the donated organs and tissue with the most appropriate recipient(s) and arranges for the recovery surgery. They also stay with the donor's family and provide support for as long as the family wishes. Immediately after the organ(s) and tissue are surgically removed from the donor, the OPO staff transports the organs and tissue to the transplant centers, where the recipients have been readied for surgery.

  19. Question: How are recipients matched to donor organs and tissues?

    Answer: Persons waiting for transplants are listed by the transplant center where they plan to have surgery on a national computerized waiting list of potential transplant patients in the United States. Under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), located in Richmond, Virginia, maintains a 24-hour telephone service to aid in matching donor organs or tissue with patients on the national waiting list and to coordinate efforts with transplant centers. When donor organs or tissue become available, the OPO that recovered the organs or tissue provides UNOS with information about the medical characteristics of the donor and specific organs or tissue, including medical compatibility between the donor and potential recipient(s) on such characteristics as blood type, weight, and age; as well as the recipient’s urgency of need and length of time on the waiting list. Also, preference is generally given to recipients from the same geographic area as the donor, because timing is a critical element in the success of transplants.

  20. Question: Why should minorities be particularly concerned about organ and tissue donation?

    Answer: Minorities suffer end-stage renal disease (ESRD), a very serious life-threatening kidney disease, much more frequently than whites. Asian American, and Hispanics are three times as likely as whites to develop ESRD; blacks are twice as likely. ESRD is treatable with dialysis but dialysis can result in a poor quality of life for the patient. The preferred treatment of ESRD is kidney transplantation. Transplantation offers the patient freedom from dialysis, to lead a more normal life and can successfully cure ESRD for many years. As with any transplant procedures, it is very important to assure a close match between donor and recipient blood types and genetic make-up. Members of racial and ethnic groups are usually more genetically similar to members of their own group than they are to others. It is important, therefore, to increase the minority donor pool so that good matches can be made as frequently as possible for minority patients.

  21. Question: Who pays for transplant organ and tissue surgery?

    Answer: Most transplants are paid for by private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid programs. Patients can get detailed information from their physicians or health insurers.

  22. Question: Where can I get more information about organ and tissue donation?

    Answer: If you would like more information about organ and tissue donation and transplantation, please call the New England Organ Bank at (800) 446-6362 or visit the website at  You can also visit the website of the United Network for Organ Sharing at This site contains up-to-date statistical information, and links to government agencies and other transplant-related organizations. There are also detailed brochures available at RMV branch offices.

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