Get the facts about organ donation
Don't be swayed by misinformation.
Discover the truth behind some common misconceptions about organ donation after death, and hear from the experts.
Your organ donation decision is important, whatever it may be. Use this information to help you make an informed choice, and then tell your family.
Healthcare professionals have a duty of care to save your life first.
If, despite the best efforts of healthcare professionals, death is inevitable, organ and tissue donation will be considered as end of life care discussions start with your family, friends and next of kin. Only when end of life care planning is started is the NHS Organ Donor Register accessed by a specialist nurse for organ donation and the possibility of organ donation discussed with your family.
There are strict criteria in place in the United Kingdom to help those caring for the dying, by providing safe, timely and consistent criteria for the diagnosis of death. Organs are never removed until a patient’s death has been confirmed in line with these criteria.
Death is confirmed by doctors who are entirely independent of the transplant team and this is done in the same way for people who donate organs as for those who do not. If organ donation is a possibility, our specialist nurses will check to see whether an individual is on the NHS Organ Donor Register, and the family of a potential donor will always be consulted.
Most people do not die in circumstances that make it possible for them to donate their organs. In fact, only around one in 100 people who die in the UK are usually able to be donors. Donors are typically those who have died in a hospital intensive care unit or emergency department.
The organ donation process involves a specialist team who ensure that donors are treated with the greatest care and respect during the removal of organs and tissue for donation.
The retrieval of organs takes place in a normal operating theatre under sterile conditions, and is carried out by specialist surgeons. Afterwards the surgical incision is carefully closed and covered by a dressing in the normal way.
Only those organs and tissue specified by the donor and agreed with the family will be removed.
A number of countries within the UK have moved - or are moving - to an 'opt out' system for organ donation, to help save and improve more lives.
Within an opt out system the decision about whether or not you choose to donate your organs is still yours to make.
If you don’t want to donate, it’s really quick and simple to record your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
You may have seen misleading messages on social media claiming that the deadline for recording your organ donation decision is coming soon.
In fact, there is no deadline.
If you request that your details are withdrawn from the register, the organ donation decision you had previously recorded - whether to donate or not to donate - will be removed from the NHS Organ Donor Register along with your personal details. This will mean that there is no longer any recorded decision for you on the Register.
In an 'opt out' system, if there is no recorded decision for you, it will be considered that you agree to donate your organs after death unless you are in an excluded group, or you have let your friends or family know your organ donation decision and they pass this on to the team involved in your end of life care.
If you record an opt out decision, you are recording your decision not to donate your organs and tissue after death. Your decision is added to the NHS Organ Donation Register, and will be respected in the event of your death.
All the major religions and belief systems in the UK are open to the principles of organ donation and transplantation and accept that organ donation is an individual choice.
We understand that you may have questions about whether your faith or beliefs affect your ability to become an organ donor.
We've worked with faith leaders and communities to build trust, raise awareness, explore questions around organ and tissue donation, and discuss how organ donation can proceed in line with faith or beliefs.
When you register as an organ donor on the NHS Organ Donor Register, you have the opportunity to say whether or not you would like the NHS to speak to your family, and anyone else appropriate, about how organ donation can go ahead in line with your faith or belief system. This is an optional part of the registration process, but any response you give will be part of your NHS Organ Donor Register record.
Our specialist nurses will respect the decision recorded on the NHS Organ Donor Register and will discuss what this means with the family as part of end-of-life care conversations. During the conversation, they will answer any questions and seek further guidance or support from additional family members and/or representatives from your faith or belief if required.
When you register your organ donation decision, you may provide information about your religion and ethnicity within the additional information section. This information is entirely optional, and is only used by NHS Blood and Transplant for analysis of the NHS Organ Donor Register. It is not stored against your registration.
If you register a decision to donate some or all of your organs, and also state that you would like the NHS to speak to your family, and anyone else appropriate, about how organ donation can go ahead in line with your faith or beliefs, this information will be recorded against your registration. This information will be available to our specialist nurses, to enable the conversation about your requirements to take place with your family. The specialist nurses will not see any information about what religion or belief system you belong to, they will only see whether or not you wish for the NHS to speak to your family about how organ donation can go ahead in line with your faith or belief system.
If you have already recorded a donation decision and have not yet recorded any information about whether or not you would like the NHS to speak to your family about how organ donation can go ahead in line with your faith or beliefs, you can amend your registration online, or contact us on 0300 123 23 23 and we will be happy to update your record. If you live in England you can also update your registration using the NHS App.
Our specialist nurses always speak to your family to see if there are considerations around your faith, beliefs or culture with respect to funeral plans.
The surgery carried out to remove a donor’s organs is carried out by highly skilled professionals who take the same care and attention, and offer the same respect as they would in any operation to save a patient’s life. The surgical incisions are carefully dressed after the surgery and any end of life care wishes in relation to the washing and dressing of the body are respected.
The donation operation is performed as soon as possible after death. After donation, the body is always returned to the family of the deceased in the same way as any death in a hospital where donation has not taken place. Families are given the opportunity to spend time with their loved one after the operation if they wish.
Organ and tissue donation doesn't prevent you from having an open-casket funeral. The body is clothed for burial, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation. The operation site is covered with a white surgical dressing like any other abdominal surgery dressing.
Should you die in circumstances that mean organ donation may be a possibility, a specialist nurse for organ donation will discuss your organ donation decision with your next of kin as part of the end of life care discussion.
Your family can play an important role in ensuring that the organ donation decision we have for you is the most recent you have made.
The specialist nurse for organ donation will consult the NHS Organ Donor Register to establish your decision before discussing it with your family. By telling your family what you've decided, you can relieve them of the burden of having to make the decision at such a difficult time.
We don't advise including your organ donation decision within your will, as your will is likely to be read after your family are consulted by the medical team.
So, tell your family your decision, let them know what you want.
Families are always consulted before organ donation goes ahead, even within an 'opt out' system.
There are a number of reasons that families are always consulted ahead of donation:
- Out of consideration to the family who are facing the loss of someone close to them;
- The family may have important information about the person’s decision around donation that is more recent than any decision recorded on the NHS Organ Donor Register;
- Family support helps ensure important information about their relative, such as their medical, travel and social history is available to our specialist nurses in organ donation. The information that families provide before organ donation goes ahead, together with medical notes and other tests, is vital to understanding whether the person’s organs are safe to transplant into somebody else.
You may not want to make an organ decision yourself. You may have specific instructions, or have concerns about your family not supporting your decision. If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can nominate up to two representatives to make the final decision about organ donation on your behalf.
If you die in circumstances where donation is possible, your appointed representative(s) will be asked if your organs should be donated.
To add appointed representatives to the NHS Organ Donor Register, you will need to ask them to sign the online 'nominate a representative' form in the presence of a witness.
Once NHS Blood and Transplant receives this form, your information and the details of your appointed representatives will be added to the NHS Organ Donor Register and this information will be available to our specialist nurses if you are identified as a potential donor.
If you do not have internet access you can call our contact centre on 0300 123 23 23, and one of our team will arrange to send the form by post.