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Organ donation - Living organ donation

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The shortage of organs has led to more people receiving organs from living donors. Although this involves carrying out major surgery, results are often very successful.

Before a living donor transplant can take place, strict regulations must be met and there must be a thorough process of assessment and discussion.

See below for more information about the regulations and assessment process.

Living organ donations

Kidneys are the most common organ donated by a living person. This is because it is possible for a healthy person to lead a completely normal life with only one working kidney. Nearly one in three of all kidney donations are from living donors.

It is also possible for part of a liver to be transplanted, and in some circumstances it may also be possible to donate a segment of lung. In a very small number of cases, part of the small bowel has also been transplanted.

Who can be a living donor?

Close relatives are most likely to donate an organ to a loved one. However, it is possible for a donation to be made by someone not related or connected to the recipient.

Living donation will only go ahead if the blood group and the tissue type of donor and recipient are compatible.

Read about how organ donation works for more information about ways an organ can be donated.

Success and survival rates

Kidneys from a living donor last longer than those donated from someone who has died.

Research has shown that in people who receive a kidney from someone who has died:

  • 80-90% of kidneys will still be working after one year
  • 77% of kidneys will still be working after five years
  • 58% of kidneys will still be working after 10 years

However, in kidney transplants where the kidney is donated from a living donor:

  • 95% of kidneys will still be working after one year
  • 84% of kidneys will still be working after five years
  • 66% of kidneys will still be working after 10 years   

Survival rates are also increased for people who receive kidneys from live donors rather than from donors who have died.

The survival rates of patients who receive kidney transplants from live donors are:

  • 94% will still be alive five years after the transplant
  • 85% will still be alive 10 years after the transplant

For those who receive kidney transplants from donors who have died:

  • 85% will still be alive five years after the transplant
  • 61% will still be alive 10 years after the transplant

Regulations and assessment

The Human Tissue Act 2004 and the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 provide the legal background for living donation in the UK. It is regulated by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA).
The HTA consists of 12 members, including 11 members from medical and scientific backgrounds, appointed by the Secretary of State for Health. The HTA's role in living donation is to ensure that: 

  • donors are not put under pressure to donate an organ
  • no payment is made for the donation (paying for donated organs is illegal in the UK)  

After the organ donor and the recipient of the donation have been assessed by the transplant team, an independent assessor from the HTA will assess the donor. They will make sure that all the legal requirements for the donation have been met.

You can visit the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) website to find how organ donations are assessed and regulated.

Medical Review: October 17, 2012
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