What is organ donation?

Organ donation is giving an organ to someone else who needs a transplant. Organ donation is an amazingly generous act and saves thousands of lives in the UK every year. However, this relies on donors and their families agreeing to donate.

Watch our animated guide to organ donation

Types of donation

There are three different ways to donate. These are:

  1. Donation following brain death (DBD): When a person is diagnosed as dead through Neurological Criteria testing. This person would have had a severe brain injury and 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.
  2. Donation following circulatory death (DCD): When a person is diagnosed as dead through circulatory determination. This is when a person has irreversible loss of function of the heart and lungs after a cardiac arrest from which the person cannot or should not be resuscitated. It can also be the planned withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a person cared for in a critical care environment.
  3. Living donation: Whilst you are still alive you can choose to donate through a medical operation a kidney (most commonly), in some cases a small section of your liver or lung or discarded bone from a hip or knee replacement and amniotic membrane (placenta). You can find out more about living donation here. 


We will only use organs from a donor with their consent or with their family’s consent after they die. 

If you want to make a real difference by being an organ or tissue donor after your death, there are two important steps you need to take:

  • Join the NHS Organ Donor Register
  • Tell your family and friends that you have joined the register and want to be a donor so they can support your decision

Learn more about what your consent to organ donation means.

Everyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register regardless of age, as long as they are:

  • legally capable of making the decision, and
  • live in the UK.

Medical conditions

Having an illness or medical condition doesn't necessarily prevent a person from becoming an organ or tissue donor. The decision about whether some or all organs or tissue are suitable for transplant is made by a medical specialist at the time of donation, taking into account your medical, travel and social history. 

There are very few conditions where organ donation is ruled out completely. 

A person cannot become an organ donor if they have or are suspected of having:

* Someone with current active cancer cannot become an organ donor. However, it may be possible for people with certain types of cancers to donate after three years of treatment. It may also be possible to donate eyes and some tissue in these circumstances. 

** In rare cases, the organs of donors with HIV or hepatitis C have been used to help others with the same conditions. 

Further information