Organ donation is the gift of an organ to help someone who needs an organ transplant. An organ transplant can dramatically improve or save someone's life, but they depend entirely on the generosity of donors and their families. Fewer than 3,000 organ transplants are carried out each year in the UK.
More than 9,000 people in the UK are waiting for an organ transplant that could save or dramatically improve their lives. Most are waiting for a kidney, heart, lung or liver transplant. One donor can give life to several people.
The NHS Organ Donor Register
The NHS Organ Donor Register is a confidential list of people who are willing to become donors after their death. You can join the register online or when you apply for a driving licence or passport, or register with a new GP.
There are over 16 million people on the NHS Organ Donor Register, but around 400 people die every year in the UK while waiting for a transplant. Even though there are millions of people on the register, most of them will not die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs. So it is important that more people join the register.
Although your relatives can't overrule your decision to donate your organs, it's still important that you tell them about your decision while you're alive.
There is a need for more African, African-Caribbean and south Asian people to join the register, as donation rates among these ethnic groups are relatively low.
Types of donation
There are three different ways of donating an organ.
Most donations are from heartbeating donors. This means the donor died but is being supported by a ventilator until the donated organs have been retrieved. This method has a greater success rate because the organs are maintained by oxygenated blood until removal.
Organs and tissue can also be donated from non-heartbeating donors; this means that the heart has stopped (cardiac arrest) and the patient cannot be resuscitated.
Live organ donation
A live organ donation is when a family member donates one of their organs to another family member. Usually the relative is blood related, most commonly a parent, although it could be a spouse. Following changes in the law, it is now possible to be an altruistic donor. Altruistic donors have no relationship with the patient but become donors as an act of personal generosity.