Making The Decision to Donate

What do I need to think about before donating an organ?

When you donate an organ to someone else, you are providing a life-sustaining gift. But there are many things you should consider carefully before you make the decision to become a living donor.

You will need to consider your overall health, and whether you have any medical problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. You will also need to consider any effects donation might have on you, your spouse, your children, or other family members. Your finances are also important, such as time lost from work and travel expenses. In short, giving an organ to someone else means being ready to face some emotional, physical, and financial challenges. You should think about all of these things carefully and make sure you are willing and ready to donate.

You may find it helpful to ask yourself some important questions as you go through your decision-making process. For a list of questions, click here.

Will I have help with making the decision?

Your transplant center has a social worker who can help you make your decision. The social worker is there to assist you personally and answer all your questions. Your discussions will be kept private and confidential.

Talking it over with people you trust can also help. You will want to discuss it with your family members. Your friends can also provide insights and support. You may also find it helpful to speak with a psychologist, social worker, spiritual advisor, your employer, or your co-workers.

What if I decide against being a living donor?

Your decision to donate an organ must be completely voluntary and free from pressure. You have the right to decide that donating a kidney is not for you. You can delay or end the donation process at any time. The reasons for your decision will be kept private and confidential by the transplant team.

If necessary, you can ask the transplant team for support in declining donation. For example, if you fear that saying "no" to the recipient would cause your family to be upset or angry with you, you may want to ask the transplant team for support. They can help you develop an appropriate response — or even a medical disclaimer if needed — which would allow you to decline gracefully.

A person with kidney failure also has some important rights. They may decide they do not want a transplant. Or they may not choose to consider a living donor. Both your decision and the recipient's decision about transplantation must be respected.

What are the long-term risks of donation?

You will also have a scar from the donor operation- the size and location of the scar will depend on the type of operation you have.

Some donors have reported long-term problems with pain, nerve damage, hernia or intestinal obstruction. There are not currently any national statistics on the frequency of these problems.

In addition, people with one kidney may be at a greater risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Proteinuria
  • Reduced kidney function

For more information, visit the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC) website

You should discuss these risks with your transplant team, and ask for the hospital for any statistics related to these problems.

*Special considerations for those in military service, police and fire departments or considering joining the military service or police or fire departments.

Some branches of military service, police and fire departments will not accept individuals with only one kidney. In addition, if you are already in military service, certain new service career options may not be available to you. If you are currently in one of these fields, or if your future plans include these career choices, you should check to see if living donation would affect your eligibility for that particular field.

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About NKF Cares
NKF Cares is a free, confidential hotline with trained professionals ready to answer your questions or concerns. Our peer-mentoring program, NKF PEERS, connects anyone affected by kidney disease with an informed and supportive mentor who has already been through the process.