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What is organ donation?

Organ transplants can save or greatly enhance the lives of other people. But this relies on donors and their families agreeing to donate their organs.  There are currently around 6,500 people on the UK transplant waiting list. 

What can you donate?

  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Pancreas
  • Small bowel
  • Cornea
  • Tissue and bone

Types of donation

Brain stem death - This is where a person no longer has activity in their brain stem due to a severe brain injury. They have permanently lost the potential for consciousness and the capacity to breathe. This may happen even when a ventilator is keeping the person's heart beating and oxygen is circulated through their blood.   

Circulatory death -  Is the irreversible loss of function of the heart and lungs after a cardiac arrest from which the patient cannot or should not be resuscitated. It can also be the planned withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a patient within the Intensive Care Unit or the Emergency Department.  

Living donation - Whilst you are still alive you can choose to donate a kidney, a small section of your liver, discarded bone from a hip or knee replacement and also your amniotic membrane (placenta).  


We will only use organs from a donor with their consent or with their family's consent after they die. It is important that you talk to your family so that they are aware of your wishes. 

Myth busters

Doctors might not do their best to save my life if they know I am on the NHS Organ Donor Register 

It is only when the treating medical team in the hospital and the family have accepted that no further treatment can help, and it is not in the patient's best interest, that 'end of life' care choices are considered. Organ donation as an 'end of life' care choice will then be discussed with a family.

Donation will leave my body disfigured and I won't be able to have an open-casket funeral 

The donor is treated with the utmost care and respect during the removal of organs and/or tissue for donation. Specialist healthcare professionals will make sure you are treated with dignity and respect. We carefully close and cover the surgical incision after donation as in any other surgical procedure. The arrangements for a viewing of a loved one's body after donation are the same as after a death where donation doesn't take place. 

I'm too old for my organs to be donated 

We encourage everyone who supports organ donation, regardless of their age, to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register and to talk to their family about their wishes. 

You only need organs from adults 

None of us want to contemplate the death of a loved one, least of all a child. Sadly some children do die and the decision to donate has provided some comfort to whole families, knowing their child went on to help others. 

I don't need to tell my family my organ donation decision. It's written in my will 

By the time your will is read, it will be too late for you to become a donor. If you want to become an organ donor, the best way to ensure this is by registering on the NHS Organ Donor Register and asking your family to support your decision to donate. 

If I've registered as an organ donor my family won't have a say about me donating my organs 

The law says that the decision about whether or not to donate your organs rests first and foremost with you. While your family has no legal right to override your decision, in practice their support is always sought. Specialist nurses will be available to provide information and support, answering any questions or concerns families may have. This will allow families to make an informed decision about donation and support your wishes. That is why it's very important to discuss your decision with your family and make them aware you want to be an organ donor. 


Sign up to the Organ Donation Register here or find out more information here. 

Source: NHS Blood and Transplant.