Giving permission for one or more of a person's vital organs to be removed so they can be transplanted into another person is known as an organ donation. Permission for an organ donation can be made while a person is living or upon their death. Donating organs can save lives or vastly improve the quality of life for people with failing organs.
Why is there a need for organ donation?
There are thousands of people on a waiting list for organ transplants because they have one or more organs that are failing, yet each year around 1,000 people on the transplant list will die from organ failure, or become too ill to have a transplant. These deaths could be prevented if organs were available for transplantation. Living with organ failure can have a huge impact on the person's lifestyle. Someone with kidney failure, for example, may need to spend many hours every week undergoing kidney dialysis, in which they are attached to a machine that replaces the functions of the kidneys.
While most people in the UK approve of organ donation, far fewer actually register as donors. In addition, an average of only 1 in 100 people will die in circumstances in which it is possible to use their organs for transplanting.
How can you become an organ donor?
In the UK, human organ transplants can take place only if the organs are voluntarily donated. There are several ways you can register to become a donor while you are still living. You can register online at NHS Blood and Transplant or at the same time as you:
In the case of death or approaching death, according to the Human Tissue Authority, someone in a 'qualifying relationship' with you or who has been nominated by you can donate your organs if they believe that would comply with your wishes. However, in Wales, consent can be deemed as given unless the person has opted out.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has provided NHS healthcare professionals with guidance on how to obtain permission for organ transplants when someone has died or it has been clearly established that death is inevitable, and how to do so in a compassionate and dignified manner, as well as how to assess the dying patient's best interests.
In which situations can organs be taken for donation?
Depending on the organs involved, there are a couple of situations in which organs can be removed for donation.
Deceased organ donation: Organs can be taken from someone who has brain stem death, where he or she will no longer regain consciousness or the ability to breathe and that person is considered dead. Alternatively, they can be taken from someone who has circulatory death (sometimes referred to as a 'non-heartbeating' donation) after a cardiac arrest, in which the heart and lungs have lost all ability to function and life-support machines take over their functions; without the support of machines, the person will die.