Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
menu iconMenu
search iconSearch

About Organ Donation and Allocation

There is a worldwide shortage of organs available for transplantation. In the United States the situation is no different. You can register to become an organ donor today.

Transplanted organs can come either from living donors or deceased donors. In the United States, most transplanted organs come from deceased donors who have experienced brain death, and their other organs remain functioning.

121,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Each day, an average of 18 people die waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs.  

Get the facts on organ donation.

Read more about the process of donation and allocation below.

Living Donors

An alternative for people waiting on the national organ transplant waiting list is living donation. A living donor – whether donating a kidney or a portion of a lung, liver, pancreas or intestine – can live in great health following the procedure. A relative or close friend of the person requiring the transplant usually makes the extraordinary gift of life. Medical expenses for the donor evaluation and operation typically come from the organ recipient’s insurance.

There are many advantages of living donor transplantation.

  • The waiting list for a deceased donor organ is long, and some in need of a transplant die waiting on the transplant list.
  • The outcomes for living donor transplant are equal to or statistically more successful than deceased donor transplants.
  • Living donor transplantation is planned. The donor and recipient can be physically and mentally prepared for the procedure through the expertise of our transplant center’s members. Ideally, the recipient can receive the new organ before becoming too ill to handle the operation.

The Center for Transplantation at UC San Diego Health System is a leader in living donor renal transplantation. We offer advanced minimally invasive surgery to living kidney donors. We are also an OPTN/ UNOS-approved living donor transplant program for liver transplantation.

For more information on living donation, visit the United Network for Organ Sharing website at Transplant Living.

Deceased Donors

Deceased donor organs come from individuals who have chosen to provide their organs to those in need when they die. Organs are suitable for transplantation from deceased donors when the donor has experienced forms of brain death – such as from traumatic head injury – where other organs remain functioning.

Take Action

  • 90%: Americans who support organ donation
  • 35%: Americans who know the essential steps to take to be a donor

Register to donate.

Organ Procurement

Organ donation and subsequent procurement is governed differently around the world. Some countries, like the United States, have adopted opt-in organ donation – in which a person provides consent to become a donor before their death so organ donation can be completed when they die. Other countries have adopted opt-out organ donation – in which individuals are automatically part of the donor pool when they die, unless they expressly opt out (in writing) from becoming a donor.

In the U.S., the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has oversight of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the nation’s organ transplant system under contract with the federal government. These two agencies are responsible for safe, efficient and ethical procurement and distribution of organs.

In addition, state legislation through the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, facilitates organ donation - such as providing the opportunity to register as a donor when applying for, or renewing your driver’s license. Review existing state-level organ donation laws. Or simply sign up to be an organ donor in your state.

Organ Allocation

Organ transplantation in the U.S. is highly regulated to ensure fair and ethical organ donation and allocation. OPTN and UNOS oversee approximately 60 organ procurement organizations (OPO’s) nationally. UNOS receives data from hospitals and medical centers throughout the country regarding adults and children who need organ transplants. The medical team of the patient in need of the organ is responsible for sending the data to UNOS, and updating them as to changes in condition.

Once UNOS receives the data from local hospitals, people in need of a transplant are placed on the organ waiting list registry. Transplant waiting times may vary from a few months to several years for the appropriately matched organ.

When an organ is donated from a person who has died, the OPO updates the national UNOS registry with information including donor condition, organ condition and blood type. Then the computerized registry runs match lists to determine candidates for the organ based on recipient condition, blood type, waiting time, geography and other criteria.

When a recipient is found, the OPO:

  • Notifies the surgeon who will transplant the organ
  • Verifies that the surgeon has accepted the organ for the recipient
  • Schedules the operation to recover the donor organ.

The Center for Transplantation:

  • Notifies the waiting recipient and instructs the patient to come to the hospital
  • Coordinates transportation of the organ to UC San Diego Health System. Frequently, this involves a our transplant team flying to the donor hospital to remove the organ/s and return with them for the transplant operation
  • Performs the transplant
  • Cares for the patient after transplantation

At UC San Diego Health System, we provide detailed information as soon as a person is placed the organ transplant waiting list to ensure that people know what to do and where to go when they receive the call that a suitable organ has been donated.

For more information on organ donation, see each of our areas of expertise, including liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung, and blood and marrow transplant.

Online Resources for Organ Donation and Allocation

United Network for Organ Sharing

United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation's organ transplant system under contract with the federal government. This site has clear and comprehensive information on organ donation and allocation.

Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) is the unified transplant network established by the U.S. Congress and administered by United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS).

US Organ Donation

U.S. government information on organ and tissue donation and transplantation. This site includes links on how to register as an organ donor in your state. DHHS/ HRSA Division of Transplantation is the primary federal entity responsible for oversight of the organ and blood stem cell transplant systems in the U.S., and for initiatives to increase the level of organ donation in this country.

Get involved by sharing the importance of organ donation with others. Free materials for school campuses, workplaces, hospitals and more are available at Visit

California Organ Donation

Donate Life California registers California organ donors.

Transplant Living

United Network for Organ Sharing website on matters related to living donors and living donor transplant.

Living Donors Online

An online community for living donors, potential donors, their families and medical professionals.