Will I Be Saved if I’m an Organ and Tissue Donor?

Published June 22, 2023 in Blog

Hollywood gets it wrong about organ and tissue donation when television shows depict a doctor transplanting a patient’s organs without consent. False storylines like these can lead to questions like “will doctors let me die if I’m a registered donor?”

The answer is a resounding no. In the early 2000s, Dr. Susan Morgan of Purdue University published a comprehensive series of research papers about how Hollywood portrayals of organ and tissue donation are inaccurate and often harmful because of the misconceptions they perpetuate.

There are many reasons why the false narratives that show up in Hollywood movies would never happen in real life:


The Hippocratic Oath

Physicians adhere to a strict code of ethics, part of which is influenced by the original Hippocratic Oath from ancient Greece. Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a Phoenix-based family medicine practitioner, says the commitment to “Do no harm” (the oft-used shorthand for the Hippocratic Oath) is paramount.

“Being a physician is not just a profession or career choice. It’s a commitment to our patients above all. We put a patient’s well-being above our own,” she said. “By becoming an organ and tissue donor, [our patients] are making a very selfless choice, but it won’t impact the quality care they receive.”


Separation of Power

Trauma surgeons that provide emergency care are completely disconnected from the process of organ or tissue recovery. Their role is to provide the best care possible to the patient in front of them. The process of preparing an organ for donation is strictly regulated and the emergency room physicians don’t even play a part. Conversely, organ procurement organizations (OPOs), like Mid-America Transplant, are wholly removed from how a patient is cared for prior to the donor being declared brain dead.


Urgency in an Emergency

One reason for the misconception that doctors won’t save an organ and tissue donor can be boiled down to a simple lack of understanding of how an ER works. When patients are in the midst of a medical emergency, doctors often do not have time to find out their name, much less their donor status. The idea that a doctor would have time to find out the donor status and all the compatibility information of a patient in crisis is unrealistic.


These misconceptions are further disproved by what does happen during the meticulously-regulated donation process.

Two women discussing the donation process. A Mid-America Transplant employee holds up a folder of information for someone who is speaking to her.

What to expect with the organ and tissue donation process

Understanding the actual process can help visualize just how detailed the protocols protecting organ and tissue donors truly are.


Patient is declared clinically and legally dead

Doctors work hard to do everything they can to keep a patient alive, but sometimes there is a complete and irreversible lack of brain function including the brain stem. If this is confirmed by a doctor, the patient is declared brain dead. There is no chance of recovery from brain death. During this time, the body is supported by mechanical means, such as a ventilator. Only at this point is donation possible.


Referral to a designated organ procurement organization (OPO)

Once brain death exams are planned, hospitals contact their designated organ procurement organization (OPO). If the patient is determined to be brain dead by a doctor – who is completely unrelated to the transplant process – only then will specially trained staff from the OPO will evaluate whether the patient is medically suitable to be an organ and tissue donor.



After evaluation, the OPO will check the state registry to determine if the patient is a registered donor. When surveyed, 95 percent of Americans are in favor of being a donor but nationally 58 percent are registered. If the patient is registered to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor, the specially trained staff from the OPO will talk to the family to explain the donation process and answer any of the family’s questions. If the patient has not registered for donation, the opportunity for donation will be discussed with the family.


Write your own legacy of generosity and hope

Thanks to checks and balances, the Hippocratic oath, and the division of personnel involved with emergency treatment and organ and tissue donation, there is no risk that care will be withheld from any registered donor. It is the work of each OPO to counter these misconceptions and educate communities. Register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor, and bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle.