Organ donation

Last updated: 20 November 2017

If you die, you may be able to have some of your organs transplanted into other people who may seriously need them. This is called organ donation.

Many organs and tissue can be donated, including your:

  • kidneys
  • heart (including heart valves)
  • lungs
  • liver
  • pancreas
  • small bowel
  • tissue (including eyes and tendons)

To allow the best chance of successful transplants, an operation to remove the organs will have to be performed as soon as possible after you die.

This can be a difficult time for your loved ones, who may have to decide on your behalf whether you would have wanted your organs or tissue to be donated if you haven't made your decision clear to them before.

You can prepare for this in advance and let people know you do want to donate your organs by:

Although you can add your organ donation wishes to your will, this shouldn't be the only way you do it. Since organs need to be removed very soon after you die, by the time your will is read out it will probably be far too late to donate your organs.

Who's eligible

Almost everyone can agree to be an organ donor, no matter how old you are.

Some organs and tissue can be transplanted even if the donor is elderly. Organs and tissue from donors in their 70s and 80s are often transplanted.

Existing medical conditions

Even if you have a medical condition, some of your organs or tissue may still be able to be donated.

For example, if you have a heart condition, it may be the case that your eyes or lungs could still be used to save someone else's life.

If you die or are expected to die soon in a hospital critical care unit, a healthcare professional will decide which of your organs may suitable for transplant, based on your medical history.

They will also do some non-invasive tests (like blood and urine tests). This will help them check for things like infections, and make sure your organs can be matched with someone suitable based on your blood and tissue type.

Children

Children aged 12 and over can register to be an organ donor themselves.

If a child is under 12, their parent or guardian can register for them on their behalf. A marker will be placed next to their name on the register to show this.

When they become 12 they will still have the marker next to their name, until they register themselves to remove it.

If a child aged 12 or over dies and it isn't known whether they wanted to be an organ donor, permission will be asked from a parent or the person most closely related to them at the time of their death.

In Scotland, a child is anyone under 16.

NHS Organ Donor register

The best way to make it known that you want your organs to be donated when you die is to join the Organ Donor Register.

This is a confidential database that lists:

  • whether you want to donate your organs
  • which specific organs you do and don't want to donate

If a healthcare professional sees you're on the Organ Donor Register, this makes it easier for them to discuss organ donation with your family when you die.

If you don't want to donate any organs, you can still confirm this on the Organ Donor Register – this is often known as 'opting out' of donation. This means your loved ones and healthcare professionals will still know your organ donation decision.

Organ donor cards

When you join the NHS Organ Donor Register, you'll be sent an organ donor card.

You can carry your donor card in your wallet or purse to show you want to donate your organs when you die.

Medical staff will always check the Organ Donor Register first to see if you want to donate your organs, so if you lose your donor card your decision will still be known.

How to join

To add your details to the NHS Organ Donor Register, complete the form on the Organ Donation Scotland website.

This form will ask:

  • for your name, date of birth and gender
  • for your address
  • whether you want to donate all organs and tissue
  • which organs or tissue you want to donate (if you don't want to donate them all)