More than 22,000 California residents are currently waiting for donated organs. (See California'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.
To confirm your intention to be an organ donor, begin by registering with the state organ donor database at Donate Life California. 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.
When you get a new driver's license in California, check "Yes, add or keep my name on the donor registry" on your application. A pink dot showing that you are an organ donor will appear on your license. Your information will also be forwarded to Donate Life California, so if you've used your driver's license to indicate that you want to donate, you don't have to register online. (For more information, see the California Driver Handbook.)
In addition to signing up with the California state 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 advance health care directive. (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 about making an advance directive for health care, see California Living Wills and Advance Directives for Health Care.
If you've documented your wishes to be an organ and tissue donor, your wishes must be honored whether or not others agree with your choice. (California Health & Safety Code § 7150.35.) Nevertheless, to avoid confusion or delays, it's important to tell others that you feel strongly about donating 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.)
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.
For more information about donating your body to science in California, 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 Science Care.
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 advance directive for health care -- and be sure your family and health care providers know that you choose not to be an organ donor. Have two disinterested witnesses sign the document. If your family and health care providers know your wishes, they are legally barred from donating any part of your body. (California Health & Safety Code § 7150.30.)
If you don't leave instructions about organ donation, California 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:
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.
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 about estate planning, organ donation, funerals, and memorials on the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.