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Does My Race & Ethnicity Matter in Organ Donation?

The short answer: maybe.

Although organs are not matched by race and ethnicity, and people of different races frequently match one another, all individuals waiting for an organ transplant will have a better chance of receiving a transplant if there are large numbers of donors from their racial or ethnic background. This is because compatible blood types and tissue markers—critical qualities for donor and recipient matching—are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. So, more diversity in the donor pool helps everyone.

Currently, ethnic minorities are in desperate need of more organ, eye and tissue donors. They represent about 60% of the national organ transplant waiting list but only about 30% of actual donors.*

This means greater diversity of donors could increase access to transplantation for everyone.

How are organs matched?

When a transplant hospital accepts a person as a transplant candidate, it enters medical data—information such as the person’s blood type, medical urgency, tissue type and transplant hospital location—about that candidate into the National transplant database. When an Organ Procurement Organization (in this case, LifeSource) confirms consent for organ donation, it enters the donor’s medical data—information such as the donor’s blood type and body size and the location of the donor hospital—into the same National transplant database.

Using the combination of donor and candidate information, the National transplant database generates a list of candidates who would best match the donor. This match is unique to each donor and each organ.

Organs from every donor are matched with people on the waiting list based on:

  • blood type
  • body size
  • how sick they are
  • donor distance
  • tissue type
  • and time on the waiting list

Once this list is created, the LifeSource coordinator contacts the transplant surgeon caring for the first patient to offer them the organ for their patient. Depending on various factors, such as the donor’s medical history and the current health of the potential recipient, the transplant surgeon determines if the organ is suitable for their patient. If the organ is turned down, the next listed individual’s transplant center is contacted, and so on, until the organ is successfully matched with a patient.

Again, although ethnicity, gender, religion and financial status are not part of the organ transplant matching system and people of different races frequently match one another. A greater diversity of donors may potentially increase access to transplantation for everyone. Register today!

*These numbers are as of May, 2021. Please visit the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network website for updated numbers.