Eye donation needs to be made easier, study says

  • BY Lainie Petersen

human eye

Despite the high need for both corneas (for transplant purposes) and eyes (for research purposes), many people don’t choose to become eye donors. A study conducted at the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University focused on the reasons for the lack of eye donations, and the results were interesting.

The study indicated that unwillingness to become an eye donor isn’t the problem. Instead, many people are simply unaware of how they can donate or that even diseased eyes can be useful for medical research.

Eye Donation May Differ from Other Organ Donation Programs

Each state has its own organ and tissue donor registry. State residents can sign up as donors directly through the registry, or they can join the registry while renewing a driver’s license or state identification card. In some states, registrants must specifically indicate that they wish to donate their eyes. Sadly, as the Michigan State University study indicated, organ donors may not be aware that they must give special permission for eye donation; For example, an organ donor might be required to check a separate box on an organ donor registry form. Other respondents stated that they’d never even been asked to donate their eyes.

Incidentally, The Eye Bank Association states that eye donation doesn’t interfere with burial plans or having an open casket funeral. If you are concerned about how your family will feel about your becoming an eye donor, talk to them about your decision and direct them to the FAQ on The Eye Bank Association’s site.

All Eyes Matter

Technically, there is no such thing as an “eye transplant,” as the eye is too complex to be successfully, and functionally transplanted into another person. However, the cornea, the clear covering of the eye, is transplantable and the surgery itself is often done on an outpatient basis. Unfortunately, there is a significant shortage of available corneas for the many people who need them, which is why eye donation is so important.

Because a successful cornea transplant depends on the donor having a healthy cornea, people with eye disease, an infectious disease (such as Hepatitis) or who have had eye surgery may mistakenly think that eye donation isn’t possible. While these eyes may not be suitable for cornea harvesting, they can still be used for medical research, which is crucial to developing a better understanding of eye health and preventing vision loss.  Nobody should feel like they can’t or shouldn’t donate their eyes because of a medical condition.

How To Donate

There is no cost to become an organ and tissue donor. To find out how you can donate your eyes (or other organs and tissue) visit OrganDonor.gov.