Like many aspects of organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation, correct media terminology is continually updated and changed. This is part of a constant effort to tell the facts of the story in language that the audience can understand without a detailed explanation, while using words and phrases that are not offensive to donor families or transplant recipients. Major newspapers and medical journals, such as the American Journal of Transplantation, have adopted this language.
brain death = death
A diagnosis of brain death is a diagnosis of death. In this situation, death is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. When the body's blood supply to the brain is blocked due to severe injury, the brain dies. It cannot be revived. Brain death should not be confused with brain injury or coma. In a coma, the brain still shows activity and functions. Brain death is a legal and medical term that defines the end of life.
cadaveric / deceased
The families of organ and tissue donors have asked donor programs and news media to refrain from using the term "cadaveric donor." The preferred term is "deceased donor."
harvest or retrieval / recover or recovery
Out of respect for the heroes who donate life, we ask reporters not to use the term "harvest" when referring to the surgical recovery of lifesaving and life-enhancing gifts. This word has negative connotations for patients and families. Please replace this word with "recovery."
life support / ventilator, mechanical support or organ-perfusion support
A ventilator is the accurate term to use when reporting on organ donation. A deceased donor remains on a ventilator in order to maintain organ function. This enables the sharing of life with others. It is incorrect to state that the deceased donor is on life support, as it gives the false impression that an individual is "kept alive" so that organs can be donated. This, of course, is never the case. Organs and tissue are only recovered from individuals whose death has been legally declared and consent has been given either through a donor document or at the request of the family.
non-heart-beating donation / donation after cardiac death
Everyone has the chance to be a donor. After cardiac death, tissues may be donated for transplantation, therapy and research. In some instances, a person may donate organs after cardiac death has occurred. This can occur is patient has suffered devastating and unrecoverable brain damage resulting in ventilator dependency, the family has decided to withdraw support and death from cardiac and respiratory arrest will occur within one hour following the withdrawal of support. In this situation, organ recovery would occur only after support is withdrawn and after cardiac death is pronounced.
Additionally, many reporters and editors find it helpful to include facts about the local and national organ donation waiting list. This information is updated monthly and is often included as a table or graphic. The latest waiting list information can be found here.
Many stories involve both organ and tissue donation or may be about research as well as transplantation. The ways that these Gifts of Life can be used to save and enhance lives through transplantation or to help through medical research are continuing to expand with advances in medicines and medical knowledge. For more donation information explore Donation Facts page and all the subpages.
- National donation celebrations: Donate Life Month (April), National Minority Donor Awareness Day (August 1), National Donor Sabbath (2nd weekend in November), Give Thanks-Give Life (November and December holidays)
- Donor Family Gathering and Remembrance Quilt project
- Donor families meeting the recipients of their loved ones' gifts of life
- Samples of personal stories on this website
Thank you for your help in saving lives through your coverage of organ, eye and tissue donation.
Everyone has the power to Donate Life.