More than ten thousand New York residents are currently waiting for donated organs. (See New York'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 New York Organ Donor Network. It takes just a few minutes to register online, or you can download a registration form and mail it in. 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 New York, you will be asked whether you would like to be an organ and tissue donor. If you say yes, a red heart and the title "Organ Donor" will appear on the front of your license, and your information will be forwarded to the state organ donor registry. (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 website of the New York DMV.
In addition to signing up with the New York 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 -- called a "health care proxy" in New York. (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 New York Living Wills and Health Care Proxies: What You Need to Know.
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. (New York Public Health Law § 4301(1).) 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.
These conversations are critical because if you don't document your intention to be an organ donor, 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 New York, 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 health care proxy -- 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. (New York Public Health Law § 4301(2).)
If you don't leave instructions about organ donation, New York 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:
(New York Public Health Law § 4301(2).)
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 estate planning, organ donation, funerals, and memorials on the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.