How I Donate Life

Donate Life advocate and transplant recipient mother Kelly Smith blogs about her campaign to raise awareness about pediatric organ donation. Learn more

About Organ Donation

There are currently over 117,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ to become available for transplant, according to the New York Organ Donor Network. Approximately 10,000 of them live in the greater New York metropolitan area. In order to help, 20 percent of New Yorkers age 18 and over have joined the New York State Donate Life Registry as organ, tissue, and eye donors—but many more are needed. Whether you are thinking about signing up or already enrolled, the following FAQ’s provide insights and information on giving the gift of life.

Why are donations needed?
There is an extreme shortage of organs (such as kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, and intestine) available for transplantation. In addition to the New Yorkers who are waiting for a new organ, many more are in need of a tissue donation, such as eye donations for cornea transplants and skin for burn victims. Without such transplant surgeries, these patients will remain disabled or die.

Can anyone be a donor?
Individuals of any age may be able to donate an organ, eye, or tissue. The donor’s medical condition at the time of death will determine which tissues or organs may be used.

How do I sign up to become a donor?
An individual must be 18 years of age to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry. You can register when you get a driver license or non-driver identification card, or when renewong your license by signing the donor box on these forms. You can also enroll using your voter registration form or through the New York State Health Department's website.

How does the process of donation start?
Hospitals must alert their federally designated Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) of each death. If someone dies outside a hospital, a family member must immediately inform the funeral home or coroner of your decision to donate. Donations must be recovered as quickly as possible after death. Following the donation, family members are responsible for the burial arrangements or funeral.

What will happen to the tissues and organs that I donate?
When an individual dies, the local Organ Procurement Organization, tissue bank, or eye bank will match the donated organs, eyes, and tissues with potential recipients waiting for transplants. These recipients are matched based on criteria that include severity of illness and blood type. Gender, race, and age are not considered.

How successful are organ transplants?
The success rate for organ transplants is between 80 and 90 percent. For a more complete understanding of the ways in which organ donation can save a life, read the success stories among our patients at the Mount Sinai Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute.

I’m enrolled in the New York State Life Pass it On Registry. Do I also need to join the Donate Life Registry?
The Life Pass It On Registry (created in 1999) is called an “intent registry” and records someone’s wish to donate but requires the next of kin’s consent. The Donate Life Registry (created in 2006) records an individual’s own legal consent to donation. If you are enrolled in this newer registry, your family members will be notified of your wishes and given information regarding donation, but their consent will not be needed to carry out the donation process. If you are enrolled in the Life Pass it On intent registry, you are not automatically added to the Donate Life consent registry. Therefore to make sure that your wish to donate is honored, you need to join the Donate Life Registry. It is also strongly recommended that you share your decision to donate with your family.

I am given the option of donating for “transplant and/or research.” What is meant by “research?”
“Research” means that recovered organs, eyes, and tissues not suitable for transplantation are offered to scientists and doctors to help their efforts to cure diseases. If you select “transplantation and research,” priority is given to finding a recipient before the research option is considered.

Is this registry used for “whole body donation?”
No. Joining the New York State Donate Life Registry is not the same as willed whole body donation and does not give authorization for a body to be given to a medical school. “Willed whole body programs” are typically linked to teaching hospitals at universities, and arrangements must be made in advance by contacting that institution. Every medical school follows its own guidelines regarding body donations, and some schools will not accept body donations after tissues, eyes, and/or organs have been donated.

How do I change my information on the Donate Life Registry?
If you need to update your information or if you want to be removed from the Donate Life Registry, write to:

The New York State Donate Life Registry
New York State Department of Health
875 Central Avenue
Albany, NY 12206

How do I get the Donor Heart Symbol removed from or added to my driver license?
In order to change the heart symbol, you must order a new license or ID by completing an MV-44 form. You can download this form or go to your Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office.

After donation can I have an open casket viewing?
Donation has no effect on the viewing or funeral.

Is there any cost to my family for donating?
There are no costs to your family or estate if you become a donor.

What happens if I am a registered donor in New York State but die in another state?
All hospitals are required to notify their federally designated Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) of every death so that if someone dies in another state, that state’s OPO will contact the OPO of the person’s resident state to determine if he or she is on the Donate Life registry. If  that person is registered, New York laws apply, but the donation will occur in the state in which the person died.

Can I register to be a donor in more than one state?
Anyone who spends time in New York State (even if his or her home address is in another state) and wants to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor can sign up with the New York State Donate Life Registry.

What is living organ donation?
Living donation is a process by which a living person donates an organ or part of an organ—such as a kidney or liver—to save the life of another human being. Mount Sinai’s Zweig Family Center for Living Donation is pleased to provide more information for anyone considering making this life-saving gift.

Contact Us

General Information
Tel: 212-731-RMTI (7684)
Send e-mail

The Zweig Family Center for Living Donation
Tel: 212-659-8096

Read a Patient Story

Mount Sinai patient Dennis Bligen partnered with RMTI Director Sander Florman, MD, as part of a six-person chain of living kidney donations. Read their story

Watch a Patient Video

Born with a life-threatening liver disease called neonatal hemochromatosis, baby Ariz Gadit was saved by a new liver from a deceased donor. Watch his story

Read a Mother’s Story

Donor mom and Mount Sinai employee Sharon Jones knits blankets for RMTI patient families.  Read her story

Get a Doctor’s Insight

Mount Sinai’s Susan Lerner, MD, shares information and perspectives on living organ donation. Read more