Organ donation myth buster


Help make sure the truth is known about organ donation

Thousands of people in the UK are waiting for an organ transplant. Sadly some will never get the call into hospital for their transplant and will die due to a shortage of people willing to donate their organs.

Deciding to donate your organs is a generous and worthwhile decision that can save lives.

If you haven’t registered as a donor because of the information you've heard, then here are answers to some common organ donation myths and concerns.

Organ donation is different in Wales. If you have a query about this please contact:

Email: organdonation@wales.gsi.gov.uk.

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

It is always the priority of the treating medical team to save a patient’s life.

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.

People could still be alive when their organs are removed

Organs can be donated as a living donor but this is not the type of organ donation we are discussing. Organ donation from a person who has died is called deceased organ donation. There are strict criteria in place in the United Kingdom for the diagnosis of death. Organs are never removed until the patient’s death has been confirmed in line with these criteria.

In the United Kingdom we determine death in two ways – either confirmation of brain stem death or circulatory death.

Brain stem death is confirmed and diagnosed by a series of clinical tests performed twice by two senior doctors.

Organ donation is against my religion

The major religions in the UK support the idea of organ donation and transplantation. These religions include:

  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Sikhism

If you're unsure of your faith's position on donation, ask your religious leader or teacher.

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.

Organ and tissue donation doesn't stop people from having an open-casket funeral. The body is clothed for burial, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation.

I’m too old for my organs to be donated

Patients who die in circumstances where they may be able to donate their organs, irrespective of age are considered individually. Whether or not someone’s organs can be safely used to help others is assessed at the time through a number of assessments. Information from the patient’s clinical and social history is also considered from medical records and the person’s next of kin.

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

Organs from children are needed too.

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.

While some organs from adult donors can be transplanted to children, organs such as heart and lungs need to be matched on size. This may mean babies and young children can have a prolonged wait for heart or lung transplants.

There are enough organ donors so you don’t need me

Around three people die every day across the United Kingdom in need of a life-saving organ transplant.

Only 1 in 100 people across the UK die in circumstances where their organs can be considered for transplantation. This means every potential donor is of vital importance. If more people join the NHS Organ Donor Register and talk to their families and ask them to support their decision to be a donor, more lives will be saved, as more families will agree to support their loved one’s decision to donate.

I can’t donate as I have a medical condition

Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating.

Medical professionals will assess if your organs and/or tissue could be transplanted based on clinical and medical criteria. Certain organs and/or tissue may not be suitable for transplantation, but others may save or transform lives. If you would like to leave a lasting legacy, join the NHS Organ Donor Register and tell your family your decision, regardless of your age or medical history.

I’ve had cancer so can’t donate my organs

Organs from deceased donors with some current and past cancers may be safely used. Transplanting surgeons balance the risk of using an organ against the risk of a patient dying waiting for a transplant.

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 an organ donor. If you want to become an organ donor, the best way to ensure this is by registering on the NHS Organ Donor Register as a donor and asking your family to support your decision to donate.

People can buy and sell organs

This is not true in the United Kingdom. Organ donation is a highly controlled area and is regulated by the Human Tissue Authority. Selling human organs or tissue is illegal.

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.