Thousands of Pennsylvania residents are currently waiting for donated organs. (See Pennsylvania’s waiting list for precise numbers.) To be part of the solution to the ongoing need for donated organs and tissues, take the following steps to become a donor after your death.
1. Sign Up at the Pennsylvania Organ Donor Registry
To confirm your intention to be an organ donor, begin by registering with the state organ donor database at Donate Life Pennsylvania. It takes just a few minutes to register online. After your death, medical personnel will search the state donor registry and easily locate your wish to be a donor.
2. Use Your Pennsylvania Driver’s License to Show You Are an Organ Donor
When you get a new driver’s license in Pennsylvania, you will be asked whether you would like to be an organ and tissue donor. If you say yes, the title “Organ Donor” will appear on the front of your license, and your information will be added to the state organ donor registry. (If you’ve used your driver’s license application to indicate that you want to donate, you don’t have to register online, though it won’t hurt to do both.)
For more information, see the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
3. Include Organ Donation in Your Health Care Power of Attorney
In addition to signing up with the Pennsylvania organ donor registry and using your driver’s license to indicate that you want to be an organ donor, it’s a good idea to include your desire to donate in your important estate planning documents, especially your power of attorney for health care. (It’s not always helpful to include your organ donation wishes in your will, because it may not be found and read until it is too late to donate.) Covering these bases helps to ensure that your wishes will be known and followed.
For additional information, see Pennsylvania Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney: What You Need to Know.
4. Tell Others That You Are an Organ Donor
To avoid confusion and delays, it’s important to tell others that you want to donate your organs. Consider discussing the matter with family members, your health care providers, your clergyperson if you have one, and close friends.
If you don’t document your intention to be an organ donor, these conversations are critical, because your next of kin will make the decision about whether or not to donate your organs. (See below.)
How to Donate Your Whole Body in Pennsylvania
Many medical schools and other institutions seek donations of whole bodies for research and instruction. You can make arrangements to donate your body to science by directly contacting an interested medical school or whole body donation organization.
In Pennsylvania, a gift of your whole body will be honored only if it is made in writing at least 15 days before your death, or consent is obtained from your next of kin. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 8611(a).)
For more information about donating your body to science in Pennsylvania, you may contact one of the programs on this list of body donation programs in the United States. You can also contact a national whole body donation organization such as the Life Legacy Foundation.
If You Don’t Want to Be an Organ Donor in Pennsylvania
If for any reason you feel strongly that you do not want to be an organ donor, you should put those wishes in writing. If you don’t, your family members may consent to the donation of your organs after your death.
Write down your instructions in a signed, dated document -- perhaps in your health care power of attorney -- and be sure your family and health care providers know that you choose not to be an organ donor. If they receive notice of your wishes, they are legally barred from donating any part of your body. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 8611(b).)
If You Don’t Make the Decision, Who Will?
If you don’t leave instructions about organ donation, Pennsylvania law decides who will make the decision for you after your death. When a minor dies, the right to decide about organ donation goes to the child’s parents. For adults, the right goes to the following people, in order:
- your agent, if you appointed one, unless the appointing document explicitly withholds this power
- your spouse
- your adult child
- your parent
- your adult sibling
- your “guardian of the person” at the time of your death, or
- any other person who has the authority or obligation to handle the disposition of your body.
If you have any concerns that the right to make decisions about donating your organs would go to a person other than the one you would choose, don’t procrastinate: Take the time to document your own decision about organ donation.
For More Information
To learn more about organ donation, see the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at OrganDonor.gov.
Also, learn more estate planning, organ donation, funerals, and memorials on the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.