Organ donation

Organ donation gives the gift of life to others. If you join the NHS Organ Donor Register, and talk to your family about your wishes, you could help save the lives of up to seven people.

Join the organ donor register

Around 200 people in Northern Ireland are waiting for an organ transplant and sadly around 15 people die each year while on the waiting list.

If you have decided to add your name to the NHS Organ Donor Register, there are a number of ways you can sign up, including:

The NHS Organ Donor Register also allows people who do not want to be an organ donor to register that choice. People can also register details of a representative or representatives if they feel they would want someone to make the decision for them after death.

Children aged 14 and over in Northern Ireland can sign the NHS Register and parents/guardians can register their children before the age of 14 if it is something the child has expressed a wish to do.

Talk about your wishes

Whatever you decide, it is very important to talk to your family or those important to you about your wishes. Sharing your decision prepares those closest to you in case anything should happen.

Choosing to become an organ donor is entirely your decision, but it does affect your family. After your death, your family will be consulted and any decision they make will be respected.

When families or friends know the wishes of their loved ones it can make the situation less stressful and can give them the confidence to fulfil your wish of being an organ donor or not.

People who can donate an organ

Being of an older age or having a medical condition will not automatically stop you from being an organ donor. The decision about whether some or all of your organs or tissues are suitable for transplant is made by the transplant team at the time of your death.

The important thing is that you are registered and have spoken to your family about your wishes. For children, consent would be sought from their parent or the person in the closest qualifying relationship to them at the time of their death.

‘Speak up and save a life’ campaign

You can find further information about organ donation and the ‘Speak up and save a life’ campaign at the following link:

Which organs you can donate

Advances in transplant medicine mean more patients can now be saved, or their quality of life improved through organ donation. When you sign the NHS Donor Register, you can choose which organs you wish to donate. The organs which can be donated are:

  • heart – for conditions such as heart disease, sometimes medicine or conventional surgeries no longer work and a transplant can be the only option
  • lungs – many patients needing a transplant have chronic infection of the lungs from cystic fibrosis and other conditions such as bronchiectasis
  • kidney – when kidneys fail, people suffer tiredness, swelling, breathlessness, anaemia, anxiety and nausea, a kidney transplant frees patients from the burden of dialysis
  • liver – transplantation is usually done either to treat the symptoms of a disease such as primary biliary cirrhosis, or to save the life of a patient dying from liver failure
  • pancreas – a pancreas transplant is the only treatment which restores insulin independence for people with Type 1 diabetes and can prevent, or slow, diabetic complications like blindness or kidney failure
  • small bowel – small bowel transplantation is a treatment for both adults and children with intestinal failure, helping them to avoid life-threatening infections and other complications
  • tissue – this can include heart valves and parts of the eye, such as the corneas and sclera, and can save the lives of children born with malformed hearts or help to restore sight for people with eye disease or injuries

Living donation

It is possible to be a living donor. The most common type is kidney donation, when one kidney is removed from a healthy individual and transplanted into someone else, often a relative. In recent years, it has also become possible to donate part of a liver.

Living donation is obviously a major decision and every person who comes forward undergoes a thorough assessment. All live donors and recipients are reviewed by an independent assessor who is responsible for making sure there is no pressure or coercion involved and that all parties understand the risk of complications.

The Organ Donor Register is only for those who wish to donate after death. To be a living donor, you must contact a transplant centre directly.           

What happens after donation

Families are given the opportunity to spend time with their loved one after the operation if they wish, and this is facilitated by the specialist nurse. Arrangements for viewing the body after donation are the same as after any death.

Organs and tissue are always removed with the greatest of care and respect. The patient’s wounds are closed and dressed the same as after any other operation.

The organ donation operation is performed as soon as possible after death. To allow the process to be organised and successful donation to take place, it can cause a short delay to funeral arrangements, possibly up to 24 hours.

After this, however, funeral arrangements can be made as normal, including the option to have an open coffin.

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