Sensitive and Preferred Terminology

Sensitive Terminology

Language plays an important role in the misconceptions and fears about organ and tissue donation. Please consider how a donor family and the general public may perceive insensitive terminology. As of May 2004, the following terminology was approved by the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations Donor Family Council.


Avoiding terminology that causes concern among donor families and the general public will not only help further their understanding but will also improve their acceptance of the donation process. We request that you support the following changes in terminology within your service area. Please feel free to distribute this fact sheet as you deem necessary.


Please use:

  • "Surgical recovery" of organs instead of "harvesting" or organs. Harvest is a word that has long been accepted by the medical community, however, the public at large associates the word "harvest" with crops, cows and combines. It can be quite unpalatable, especially to donor families, to associate their loved one's organs with crops, cows and combines. The word "recovery" helps people to understand that the removal of a loved one's organs for transplant is a respectable surgical procedure.
  • "Deceased donor" instead of "cadaver": In the past, the term donation did not require any specificity. Today as more people choose to become living donors, there is a need to distinguish between living and deceased donors. Reportedly, the term cadaveric depersonalizes the fact that a gift was offered to someone upon an individual's death. Webster defines cadaver as "dead bodies intended for dissection." This is not the positive message we wish to convey to the public or donor families.
  • "Mechanical support" or "ventilated support" instead of "life support": There are two ways to determine death - cardiac death (when the heart stops functioning) and brain death (when the brain stops functioning). The term "life support" proves to be a confusing term when used in conjunction with brain death. When death occurs, there is not support that can make the individual live again. In the presence of brain death, an individual may share the gift of life with others through organ donation. The organs are perfused with oxygen for several hours through "mechanical" support. "Mechanical" or "ventilated support" are appropriate terms for the support given a decreased person in the event of organ donation.

Preferred Terminology


To be used at your own discretion, as a subtle suggestion of preferred terminology:

  • "Donation after cardiac death" instead of "non-heart beating donation"
  • "Donor designation" instead of "first-person consent"
  • "Deteriorating to brain death" instead of "progressing to brain death"
  • "Recovering a donor" instead of "doing a donor"