Find answers below to some of the most frequently asked questions about organ and tissue donation. Can’t find the answer you’re looking for? Contact us and we’ll be glad to help.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the New York State Donate Life Registry?
The New York State Donate Life Registry is a database of people who have signed up to donate their organs, eyes and/or tissues after their death. This database is kept confidential.
- When people sign up to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry they agree to donate their body parts after they die. This is a legal document ensuring the person’s wish to be a donor is carried out.
- If you enrolled before July 2008, please take a moment to rejoin. Prior to July 2008, you registered your intention to donate. Your family still had to give permission for donation to occur.
- If you enrolled in the Registry after 2008, your family will be told of your decision and given information about the process but their permission is not needed for the donation to proceed.
- If you would like to see if you have signed up to enroll in the Registry, visit donatelife.ny.gov.
Who can join the New York State Donate Life Registry?
Anyone 16 or older can join the New York State Donate Life Registry.
- If a 16 or 17 year old is in the Registry, it alerts their parents or legal guardians to their wishes. They, the parents or legal guardians, have the final say regarding whether donation can occur in this situation.
- Once an individual turns 18, their consent to donate can only be reversed by him or herself.
- No one is too old to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry.
How do I join the New York State Donate Life Registry
There are many ways to join the New York State Donate Life Registry:
- Enroll online at donatelifenys.org/register
- Sign up at the NYSDMV when applying for or renewing a learner permit, driver license or non-driver ID. When you enroll at the DMV, a heart and the words “Organ Donor” appear on these documents. Signing the back of your license does not enroll you in the New York State Donate Life Registry.
- Enroll on NYSDMVs’ MyDMV Online site. When you apply, or renew a learner permit, driver license or non-driver ID online, the heart symbol and the words “Organ Donor” will appear on these documents.
- Enroll at an IDNYC Enrollment Center when you apply for or renew an IDNYC government-issued identification card. The words “Organ Donor” will be on your IDNYC identification card.
- Enroll when registering to vote. Complete and sign page 3 of the voter registration form.
- Through the New York State of Health Official Health Plan Marketplace when applying for health insurance.
- Download, complete and mail or email the paper form at donatelife.ny.gov/download-forms.
- Complete a paper enrollment form provided by an organ procurement organization (OPO) or state licensed eye and tissue bank found in the Resources section of the New York State Donate Life Registry’s website.
What happens when I join the New York State Donate Life Registry?
When you sign up to enroll in the Registry you give legal permission to donate parts of your body after death. You can limit the donation for transplants, research or both. This legal document directs OPOs, eye and tissue banks to fulfil your wish to be a donor.
- Your registration is private and can only be viewed at the time of death.
- Once you sign up, you do not need to carry a wallet card.
- After joining the Registry, you will receive a letter or email providing information on how to change your registration.
- If you enrolled in the Registry through the NYS DMV, NYS of Health Online Insurance Marketplace, NYS Board of Elections Voter Registration Form, or IDNYC Municipal ID card, you are authorizing the donation of all organs and tissues for the purposes of transplant and research. Following your registration, you will receive a letter or email providing information on how to change or limit your donation.
When I join the New York State Donate Life Registry, what organs and tissues am I signing up to donate?
When you join the Registry, you are able to donate organs, eyes and tissues.
- Organs include: heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines.
- Tissues are: eyes/corneas, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, nerve, cartilage and connective tissues.
- If you enrolled in the Registry through the NYS DMV, NYS of Health Online Insurance Marketplace, NYS Board of Elections Voter Registration Form, or IDNYC Municipal ID card, you are authorizing the donation of all organs and tissues above for the purposes of transplant and research. Following your registration, you will receive a letter or email providing information on how to change or limit your donation.
- You can NOT register as a bone marrow donor in the Registry. You can register as a bone marrow donor at “Be The Match Registry.”
- You can NOT register to donate your whole body to research or science on the Registry. See information below to learn how to do this.
Can I limit the organs and tissues I want to donate?
I am given the choice to donate for transplant and/or research. What does “research” mean?
“Research” means that doctors/scientists can conduct medical research using the donated organs and tissues. This only happens on organs, eyes and tissue that were recovered but not able to be transplanted.
- If you choose “transplantation and research,” the first priority is to help a patient in need of a transplant.
If I join the Registry, will my medical care be affected?
No. Donation occurs after death. Your wish to be a donor does not impact your medical treatment.
- Medical staff, including the EMS, doctors, and nurses do not have access to the Registry.
- Hospitals and their emergency rooms do not have access to the Registry.
- The doctors who take care of you while you are alive are not the same doctors involved in the donation process.
- Registration status can only be seen or accessed by federally designated Organ Procurement Organizations and NYS licensed Eye and/or Tissue Banks to check if a person was enrolled in the Registry at the time of their death.
I am not sure if I am enrolled in the New York State Donate Life Registry. What should I do?
You can check your registration status in the NYS Donate Life Registry at donatelife.ny.gov. You can also call us at 518-326-3237 and our office staff will be happy to help.
Can I specify who receives my donation?
You can direct a donation to an individual. If the organ is a match, they can receive the transplant as a gift.
- You cannot restrict a donation on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity or other specific factor
Is the Registry used for whole body donation?
No. Joining the Registry does not authorize a whole body to be donated to a medical school.
- Whole body programs are associated with teaching hospitals at colleges, and you must plan this with these institutions.
- Contact the Association of Medical Schools of New York for more information on whole body donation.
Who can access my information in the New York State Donate Life Registry?
Registration status can only be seen or accessed by:
- OPOs and Eye and/or Tissue Banks to check if a person was enrolled in the Registry at the time of their death.
- Donate Life New York State and the New York State Department of Health staff to perform duties related to the administration, management and oversight of the Registry. These duties might include: confirming enrollment, data entering an authorized status change or removing a Registry enrollee from the database with written permission.
- You can check your status, make changes or withdraw your registration at donatelife.ny.gov.
- No other health professionals have access to the New York State Donate Life Registry.
I enrolled in the Registry. Do I need to carry a wallet card to indicate my status?
No, you do not need to carry a wallet card or any other documentation indicating your status as a donor. This is not necessary because the Registry is a searchable database accessible by OPOs and Eye and/or Tissue Banks to check if a person was enrolled in the Registry at the time of their death.
How can I change or withdraw my information from the New York State Donate Life Registry?
To update your personal information or modify your gift:
- Click on the following link: donatelife.ny.gov/log-in and log in; or
- Complete, sign and mail the Change and Specification Form to the address on the form or email to Donate Life New York State at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To withdraw from the Registry:
I joined the Registry. Do I have to tell my family?
As a registered organ and/or tissue donor, your family will not have to provide their permission for you to donate at the time of your death. However, we suggest talking to your family about the decision to enroll in the Registry. Letting them know ahead of time may help them through an extremely difficult time. It also provides comfort that they do not have to make this decision on your behalf.
I want the Donor Heart Symbol added to (or removed from) my driver’s license or ID card. How do I do this?
To add or remove the heart symbol from your DMV issued license or ID card, you need to order a new one. Please complete the MV-44 form at the DMV. You can download this form https://dmv.ny.gov/forms/mv44.pdf or go to your local DMV office.
If you would like to remove the “Organ Donor” designation printed on your identification card obtained from the IDNYC Program, you must fill out an application online, or at the enrollment center. You will need to make an appointment at an enrollment center where you will complete the replacement process. You must bring your current IDNYC card to the appointment. If you do not have your card, you will need to apply for a replacement for a lost or stolen card. You can make the appointment on the Online Portal, or by calling 311.
Please note: Removing the “Organ Donor” designation from your DMV issued driver’s license or ID card or IDNYC card does NOT remove you from the New York State Donate Life Registry. You must remove your name from the Registry separately.
Who can become an organ and tissue donor?
All people should consider themselves potential organ and tissue donors—regardless of age, health, race, or ethnicity. Don’t rule yourself out! No one is too old or too young to be a deceased donor and most major religions support donation.
- Even with an illness or a health condition, you may be able to donate your organs and/or tissues upon death. If the situation arises upon death, doctors will examine your organs and determine whether they are suitable for donation.
- Newborns and senior citizens into their 90s have been organ donors. The health of your organs is more important than your age.
Why are organ and tissue donations needed?
Organ and tissue donations help save and improve lives. Without these donations, many people will die or remain disabled.
- There is a shortage of organs for life-saving transplants. Nearly 10,000 New Yorkers are on the national transplant waiting list.
- Organ transplants are life-saving surgeries. Without a transplant, many sick people who need new hearts, livers, kidneys, or lungs will die.
- Tissue transplants can save the lives of burn victims, be used for breast reconstruction for cancer survivors, or allow someone to walk again.
- Corneal transplants restore sight to people who are blind.
What does my religion say about organ and tissue donation?
All major religions approve of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Many believe it is the most important gift one person can give to another. If you have questions or concerns, you should discuss them with your religious or spiritual leader.
- Some major religions have released official statements or policies about donation: www.organdonor.gov/about/donors/religion.html
How are donated organs matched to recipients?
The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network operates the national database of all patients in the U.S. waiting for a transplant. OPTN’s computer system matches the donor’s organs to potential recipients.
The network has policies that regulate how donor organs are matched and allocated to patients on the waiting list. There are some common factors in how organs are matched, such as blood type and how long the patient has been waiting. However, depending on the organ, some factors become more important, so there is a different policy for each organ.
When matching organs from deceased donors to patients on the waiting list, many of the factors taken into consideration are the same for all organs. These usually include:
- Blood type
- Body size
- Severity of patient’s medical condition
- Distance between the donor’s hospital and the patient’s hospital
- The patient’s waiting time
- Whether the patient is available (for example, whether the patient can be contacted and has no current infection or other temporary reason that transplant cannot take place)
Depending on the organ, however, some factors become more important. For example, some organs can survive outside the body longer than others. So the distance between the donor’s hospital and the potential recipient’s hospital must be taken into consideration.
How does the donation process work?
Hospitals alert the regional OPO, Eye Bank and/or Tissue Banks of all deaths and imminent deaths.
- OPOs, Eye Banks and Tissue Banks have access the Registry to determine if a patient is a registered donor. Neither hospitals nor health care providers have access to the Registry.
- The patient is evaluated to determine if they are medically able to donate organs and tissues.
- If the patient is medically able to donate and is a registered donor:
- The OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank meets with the family and informs them of their loved one’s legal consent to donate their organs and/or tissues.
- The OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank then walks the family through the donation process.
- The OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank then begins the recovery process.
- If the patient becomes an organ donor, the organs are matched to recipients based on federal guidelines.
- If the patient is an eligible donor and they are not registered:
- The OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank meets with the family or individuals authorized to make decisions for the patient.
- The OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank explains the donation process to the family.
- The authorized decision makers are asked and then decide whether or not the patient will donate organs and tissues.
- If consent to donate is given, the OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank then begins the recovery process.
- If the patient becomes an organ donor, the organs are matched to recipients based on a federally managed waitlist.
- If the patient is not medically able to donate organs or tissues, their family will not be asked to consider donation.
If you die outside of the hospital, donation of eyes and tissues may be possible. Your family needs to immediately notify the coroner or funeral home of your death and your wishes.
When must organs, eyes and tissues be recovered?
Organs, eyes and tissues must be recovered as soon as possible after death. The times organs can survive outside of the body are listed below:
- Heart: 4-6 hours
- Lungs: 4-6 hours
- Liver: 8-12 hours
- Intestines: 8-16 hours
- Pancreas: 12-18 hours
- Kidney: 24-36 hours
Corneas and tissues (bone, connective tissue, skin, valves, and veins) must be recovered within 24 hours of death. Cornea tissue can be stored for 14 days before it must be transplanted. Other tissue can be processed and stored for a longer period of time and used for burn cases, ligament repair, or bone replacement, etc.
Does my family have to give permission to donate my organs, eyes, and tissues at the time of my death?
If you are enrolled in the Registry, your family will be told of your decision, and given information about the process, but their permission is not needed for the donation to proceed.
If you are not enrolled in the Registry, the OPO, Eye Bank or Tissue Bank will meet with your family or other individuals authorized to make the donation decision on your behalf, and request authorization for donation.
What if I am a registered donor, but my family is opposed?
If you are 18 or older enrolled in the Registry, your decision to donate must be honored if medically possible.
- State and federal laws support your rights to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.
- If you are in the Registry, your family will be told of your decision, and given information about the process, but their permission is not needed for the donation to proceeds.
- Most families of registered donors are happy to know their loved one made this decision. They follow their wishes.
- If you are 16 or 17 at the time of your death, your parents or legal guardians can revoke your decision to be a donor. The consent to donate for people enrolled in the Registry that are 18 years of age or older can only be revoked by the enrollee themselves.
If I donate my organs, eyes and tissues can I still have an open casket viewing?
Donation does not usually change funeral arrangements and an open casket is possible.
If I donate my organs, eyes or tissues, does New York State take care of my remains?
After donation, the body is always returned to the family of the deceased in the same way as any death in a hospital where donation has not taken place. Families are responsible for funeral arrangements and costs, but are never responsible for costs relating to the recovery of organs and tissues.
Is there any cost to my estate or family for donating my organs, eyes and tissues?
No, there are no costs to your estate or family for you to become a donor.
- Your family pays for your medical care and funeral arrangements, but never incur costs for the donation process.
- Costs related to donation are paid by the transplant recipient.
If I am registered as a donor in New York, but die in another State, what happens?
Hospitals nationwide are required to inform an OPO of every death. If a New Yorker dies in another state, that state’s OPO will contact an OPO in New York to check to see if they are in the New York State Donate Life Registry database.