What is organ and tissue donation?
Organ and tissue donation involves removing organs and tissue from someone and transplanting them into another person.
After death, the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys and intestines can all be donated. Tissue that can be donated includes that from the eyes, heart, skin, bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.
Donors who are alive may choose to donate organs, such as the liver or a kidney, and tissues including blood and bones, such as the femoral head (top of the leg bone) following a hip replacement.
Transplantation can be a life-saving procedure, such as when an organ is donated to someone who has end-stage organ failure.
It can also be life-changing; for example, when eye tissue is donated to someone who has lost their sight, or when a lung is donated to someone with cystic fibrosis.
What say does the family have about donation?
When someone dies, an expert in the area of donation, called a donation specialist, talks with the family about the possibility of donation. The specialist explains which organs and tissue may be suitable to donate. They ask the family if they are prepared to authorise the procedure. Only the organs and tissue that the family has agreed to donate will be retrieved and used for transplantation and/or research. If the family does not agree, there will be no donation.
If any organs or tissue are transplanted into another person (the recipient), the family will be informed about their progress after transplantation. Australian law bans any identifying information being given to donor families or transplant recipients, however, families and recipients can contact each other anonymously through the DonateLife service.
What if a coronial investigation is required?
If someone has died and a coronial investigation into their death is required by law, any organ or tissue donated by that person needs to be authorised by the state coroner and the forensic pathologist. In certain cases, they may place restrictions on which organs and tissue may be donated.
What happens when organs and tissue are donated?
After donation has been authorised, the donated organs are removed by highly skilled surgeons in an operating theatre. Donated tissue may be removed either in an operating theatre or in a mortuary by trained technicians.
The donor is always treated with dignity and respect. The donation of organs and tissues does not alter their physical appearance, or affect funeral arrangements in any way.
After the operation, the family may spend time with their loved one if they so choose. They are also offered support by the hospital social worker and donation specialist.
There is no charge to the family for organ or tissue donation, and there is no charge to the person who receives the organ or tissue.
What are the religious opinions about organ and tissue donation?
Most religions support organ and tissue donation as a charitable act and recommend that people make their own informed decision. If you are not sure about this, please discuss with your religious advisor.
What support services are available for donor families?
In Australia, families who are approached about donating their loved one’s organs and tissue for transplantation are offered bereavement support through the local DonateLife service. A range of other resources and support services are available through the donor family support coordinator.
- Understanding Death and Organ & Tissue Donation. Australian Organ and Tissue Authority 2012.
- ANZICS Statement on Death and Organ Donation Edition 3.2 2013. Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society.
- Organ and Tissue Donation for Transplantation – NSW Health
- NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service – NSW Health
- DonateLife – Australian Government, Organ and Tissue Authority