Organ and Tissue Donation

What is organ and tissue donation?

Organ donation is when you agree to give certain organs and/or tissues from your body after you die to other people who need them. The organs or tissues are ‘transplanted’ to the other person. This means that they are removed in surgery and place in the other person. Transplants are usually needed because someone’s organ/tissues are diseased and are no longer able to work properly.

Organs that can be transplanted are:

  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Pancreas
  • The small bowel

As well as organs, you can also transplant tissue such as:

  • Corneas (the see through part that covers the front of the eye)
  • Skin
  • Bone
  • Tendons (a strong band that connects your muscles to your bone)
  • Cartilage (tissue that provides structure and support to other tissues, such as your ear) 
  • Heart valves

How do you become a donor?

In the UK your organs and tissue can only be used if you give your permission. You can give your permission by telling a family member or close friend, carrying an organ donor card or registering on the NHS Organ Donor Register. The NHS Organ Donor Register is a database that records whether a person wants to donate and what they would like to donate.

Registering is the easiest way to give your permission because it will be clear to your family, friends and health professionals that you want to be a donor.
Registering as a donor is simple. Just log on to the National Transplant Week website and fill in the online form.

You can also call the NHS Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23. The line is open 24 hours a day and you get charge for the cost of a local call.

When you register as a donor you will be sent a donor card. It’s a good idea to discuss your decision to donate with your family or close friends. If you die then they will be asked to confirm if you still want to donate.

How old do you have to be to register as a donor?

You can be any age to register as a donor. You can register at any age. In Scotland, if you are aged 12 or over then you can register yourself as an organ and tissue donor. Your parents cannot go against your decision. If you are below the age of 12 then you need to get consent from your parents or guardians.

Parents or guardians can register children under the age of 16. If you don’t want to be a donor then you can contact the Donor register at any time to be removed from the list. If you are put on the register without your knowledge, your family will be contacted at the time of your death to get consent for donating your organs. They have the right to refuse.

Can you donate when you’re alive?

In some cases organ donations can be made by living people. The organ donated most often by a living person is the kidney. A healthy person can lead a healthy life with only one functioning kidney. Live donations are usually made by a close friend or family member.

More information & help

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Information taken from NHS Blood and Transplant