Learn the Facts

Anyone can register to be a donor. Please do not rule yourself out for age or any medical issue or condition. A medical assessment will take place at the time of death to determine whether donation is a possibility.

Today, anyone can be considered for organ and/or tissue donation, regardless of age.

Depending on the type of cancer and whether or not it is currently in remission you may be able to donate organs. If the cancer is not blood-borne or has not progressed to the eye, corneal donation is an option. If it is a blood-borne cancer or the cancer has progressed to the eye, corneas may be donated for research purposes. Most often, cancer will be a rule-out for tissue donation. If you have specific questions about your cancer history and donation, please call our office.

Hospital and emergency personnel are only concerned with saving your life. They do not have access to the confidential donor registry database to even check for donor registration, nor do they make any determination as to whether someone is able to donate. Iowa Donor Network’s medical team will assess for donation suitability only after all life saving measures and treatments have been given.

Because the recovery of organs and tissues for transplantation is a surgical procedure, incisions are made. However, this should not preclude an open casket funeral. If you decide donation is the right choice, you may want to consider what clothing would be best for an open casket funeral.

There is no cost to the donor’s family for organ, eye, and tissue donation. Once brain death is declared and/or a family gives consent to donation the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) covers the charges incurred for the remaining time spent in the ICU and the recovery in the OR. The family will still be responsible for the care given to their loved one prior to brain death. Expenses related to saving the individual’s life and funeral expenses remain the responsibility of the donor’s family.

Most major religions support donation as a humanitarian act of giving. Transplantation is consistent with the life-preserving traditions of these faiths. Click here for information on specific religious views on donation.

According to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1968, human organs, eyes or tissue cannot be bought or sold in the U.S. Violators are subject to fines and imprisonment. All organ, eye and tissue recovery agencies are strictly regulated by the United Network for Organ Sharing.

There are two ways to determine if a person is dead. The first is through the irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions. The other is through the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain including the brain stem. This is known as brain death. Once brain death has occurred, the brain has permanently stopped functioning. This is not the same thing as permanent, vegetative state or a coma. There is no chance of recovery in brain death.


People who die from brain death typically experience some type of injury to the brain such as head trauma, an aneurysm, stroke, large tumor, or lack of oxygen and blood flow to the brain for an extended period of time.

In order to determine brain death, a person must have been previously put on a breathing machine known as a ventilator and given fluids and medications to help circulate blood in the body. A physician must determine brain death by examining for the absence of neurological functions of the brain. They also perform a test to see if the person spontaneously breaths when the ventilator is temporarily disconnected from the person. A person who is brain dead has an absence of all neurological brain functions and will not spontaneously breathe. 

Organs that can be donated for transplantation include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small intestine. Tissue that can be recovered for donation includes corneas, bone, tendon, skin, veins, and heart valves. For information on how organs and tissue help transplant recipients visit The Interactive Body.

Organ allocation is strictly regulated by the federal government under the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN) to ensure equitable distribution of organs. Organs for transplant are matched to waiting recipients through a centralized computer network which holds the organ transplant waiting list and links all 58 organ procurement organizations (like Iowa Donor Network) and transplant centers in the country. Specific donor characteristics such as age, height, weight, blood type, tissue type, etc. are entered into this network and matched for compatible characteristics of registered recipients. The order of recipients on the organ allocation list is also based on a point allocation system taking into account recipient-specific factors such as medical urgency, length of time on the waiting list, tissue typing match, and distance of the recipient from the donor since organs have a relatively short amount of time they can be without blood flow (4 - 48 hours). Organs are never matched based on race, gender, income, or social/celebrity status.

Tissue used for transplants is also strictly regulated by the federal government under the Federal Drug & Food Administration (FDA). Tissues are surgically removed by highly trained and qualified individuals. The tissue is then sent to a tissue processor for final preparation of the tissue into its final product. Unlike organs, tissue can last upwards of five years before it has to be transplanted. Tissue processors are responsible for the distribution of tissue to surgeons and hospitals where is will be used in tissue transplant surgeries.

It is important for both parties that we maintain confidentiality. If either party wishes to correspond, we encourage that letters be sent through Iowa Donor Network and the transplant center. We will forward the letters to the donor families or recipients. In the event that both parties wish to meet each other, we can help facilitate this.

Our Vision:

All are inspired to donate life.