Organ Donation: Everything you need to know

The NHS Organ Donor Register lets you choose whether you want or do not want to donate your organs after your death. Credit: PA

There are around 6,900 people in the UK waiting for a transplant. Some of them will be matched to a suitable donor. Sadly, many won't.

What is organ donation?

Organ donation is when you decide to give an organ to save or transform the life of someone else.

You can donate some organs while you are alive, and this is called living organ donation.

But, most organ and tissue donations come from people who have died.

Organ donation is your decision. You can choose which organs to donate or opt out of donation altogether.

If you are black, asian or minority ethnic, choosing to donate could increase the chances of someone from the same background finding a life-saving match.

Every organ donation has the potential to save up-to nine lives.

What organs can be donated?

Everyone has a choice as to whether or not they want to become an organ donor after they die, and if you choose to donate, you can choose to donate either some or all of your organs.

By registering to become an organ donor you have the option to donate organs such as your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and small bowel.

When you register to donate your organs, you can also choose to donate your corneas, and your tissues, including bone.

Living donation

Living donation usually requires surgery, but potential donors are carefully assessed to determine their suitability and results have proved successful.

Living donations include:

  • Kidneys - Around a third of all kidney transplants in the UK are donated by a living person as a healthy person can lead a normal life with one

  • Liver - Part of a liver from a living person can be donated because the liver can regenerate itself, although this is less common than living kidney donation

  • Tissue - those undergoing hip operations can donate part of their thigh bone, while amniotic membrane (part of the placenta) can be donated after caesarian section to be used in eye operations

How to become a living donor

To learn more about living organ donation, visit the NHSBT website here, email or contact your local transplant centre.

Deceased donation

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.

Your faith and beliefs will always be respected.

Deceased donations include:

  • Kidneys

  • Heart

  • Liver

  • Lungs

  • Pancreas

  • Small bowel

  • Corneas

  • Tissue

How to join the NHS Organ Donor Register

You are free to register your decision whenever you like, and organ donation remains your choice. 

You can choose at any time whether to opt in or out of becoming an organ and tissue donor.

You can register here, it only takes two minutes.

The opt-out system

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.