The federal Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) contains specific rules and procedures for donating one’s body parts or tissue or making an anatomical gift when one dies. The law offers a template to the states that they can use to develop their laws on body parts, tissue, and whole-body donation. A person can donate their entire body as well.
All 50 states have adopted some version of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. State laws regulate who may donate body parts, for what purposes a person may donate body parts, and how it can be done. Laws may vary in certain specifics among the states, so a person wants to check their local laws before making a gift of their body parts, tissue, or whole body, which is also possible.
The federal government reports that approximately 100 people undergo organ transplants daily in the U.S. However, approximately 17 people die daily in the U.S. waiting for an organ transplant because the supply of organs is insufficient to meet the demand. In February 2021, reportedly, 107,000 Americans waited for the donation of an organ from a person who had died.
Who Can Donate a Body Part?
Most states have adopted some form of the most current version of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which was last amended in 2006. Under the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, the following people may make an anatomical gift:
- Emancipated minors;
- Minors who are authorized under state law to apply for a driver’s license;
- Minors must be at least as old as the youngest age at which a state resident may apply for a driver’s license to be donors;
- An agent of the donor, unless a power of attorney for health care or other record prohibits the agent from making an anatomical gift; and
- A parent of the donor, if the donor is an unemancipated minor, or the donor’s guardian.
People cannot be too old to donate a body part or tissue. There is no upper age limit requirement for organ and tissue donation. Even a person who is sick when they die may still be able to donate some organs or other parts of their body for transplantation.
The people who make final decisions about the use of organs donated for transplantation may reject a patient as a donor because they have certain kinds of infectious diseases. However, a person who wants to donate should provide for the donation. The professionals can then decide whether to accept or reject a particular donation at the time of the person’s death.
Which Parts of the Body Can Be Donated?
Quite a few parts of the human body can be transplanted into others. Transplantation can greatly improve the recipient’s quality of life or even save their life. The following eight organs can be transplanted at the current time:
- Tissues include the cornea of the eye, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissue.
Even if a person’s own vision is imperfect, their corneal tissue can help improve the vision of a transplant patient. Skin is used in skin grafts for burn victims. Transplantation of the hands and the face is hardly commonplace yet, but it is done and is likely to become more common.
How Can a Donated Body Part Be Used?
Under the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, donations may be made for the following purposes:
- Research; and
How Does a Person Consent to the Donation of a Body Part?
The UAGA is not a law but a model for states to draft their laws. So, the answer to this question depends on the law in the state where the person lives. It may also depend on the policies of the hospital or other facility in which a person dies. Under the 2006 UAGA, people may consent to organ donation by doing the following:
- Selecting the status of “organ donor” on a driver’s license;
- Verbally expressing a wish to donate; and
- Including a provision consenting to organ donation in a will or advanced directive, i.e., a living will or durable power of attorney.
As state laws may differ, a person is advised to consult an estate lawyer for guidance on organ, tissue, and body donation.
There is no cost to the donor for donating a body part, tissue, or whole body.
Who Can Receive a Donated Body Part?
Under the 2006 UAGA, the following people named in a document that can be used to donate may be the recipient of the donation:
- A hospital;
- An accredited medical school, dental school, college, or university;
- An organization that engages in organ procurement;
- Another appropriate person for research or education; or
- A person named by the person donating if the person is the recipient of the donated part, tissue, or body.
Frequently, a donor makes a gift of one or more specific body parts. The document in which the donation is made may specify the purpose of the donation but does not name a specific recipient. In these cases, the following rules apply:
- If the donated organ is a part of the eye and the donation is for transplantation or therapy, then the donation is given to an appropriate eye bank;
- If the part is tissue and the donation is for transplantation or therapy, then the donation is given to an appropriate tissue bank;
- If the part is an organ and the donation is for transplantation or therapy, then the donation is provided to an appropriate organ procurement organization.
Who May Consent to Organ Donation on Behalf of a Deceased Individual?
If a person has not made a document of gift for their organs, tissue, or body during their lifetime, then the 2006 UAGA presumes the donor intended to donate organs unless a person has indicated a refusal to donate in a signed document. However, states are not required to adopt the UAGA presumption of intent to donate organs.
Under the 2006 UAGA, if a person has not expressed any preference for or against donation at all, the following people may consent to donation on behalf of that person when they die:
- Spouse: A decedent’s spouse;
- Adult Children: A decedent’s adult children;
- Parents: A decedent’s parents;
- Adult Siblings: A decedent’s adult siblings;
- Grandparents: A decedent’s grandparents; or
- Guardian: A decedent’s guardian at the time of death.
Again, a person wants to check the law in the state in which they live.
How Do You Donate a Body Part After You Die?
This depends on the law of the state in which a person dies. It may also depend on the policies of the hospital or other facility in which a person dies. In some states, an anatomical gift may be made only in a written document signed by the donor. If the donor cannot sign, the gift document must be signed by another person on the donor’s behalf and by two witnesses, all of whom have signed at the direction and in the presence of the donor and of each other, and state that it has been so signed. A gift may also be made in a will.
Can I Change Your Mind About Donating a Body Part?
A person may revoke a decision to donate by contacting the agency, e.g., their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or whichever agency issues driver’s licenses or a donor registry with which the person may have registered as a donor. The person may request that they be removed as a candidate for donation. Donor registries may require a revocation in the form of a signed writing.
Generally, if a person is a candidate for donation at the time of their death, their family is not allowed to revoke the person’s decision. Every person who authorizes a donation in whatever form should inform their family of their wishes and ensure they agree to respect it as disputes arise after a person has passed about organ donation.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Want to Donate a Body Part?
If you wish to donate body parts when you pass away, there are several ways to do this. You want to consult an estate lawyer.
Your lawyer can explain the options and help you draft a will, advance directive, durable power of attorney, or other document to achieve your goal. They may also assist you if you are involved in a dispute regarding who is the proper and valid beneficiary of an anatomical donation.