Tissue and organ donation can be a polarising subject. Although some people would never consider giving over their organs upon death, more people are recognising the impact that becoming an organ donor can have on the lives of others.

More than 6,500 people are currently on the UK national transplant waiting list and 400 people died whilst waiting for a transplant in the last year alone. With numbers like these, you may want to find out a little more about organ and tissue donation, to consider whether or not it is right for you and, if so, how to set yourself up as a donor. Here, we look at everything you need to know about the process.


How do I become an organ donor?

Donation only ever takes place with the consent of the deceased and this can be expressed by signing up to the NHS Organ Donation Register or by communicating consent to a relative or close friend who can then inform the relevant medical authorities.

Anyone, regardless of age, can become an organ donor, as long as they are legally capable of making such a decision and they live in the UK. There are a few medical conditions that will prevent you from donating, such as HIV, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) or cancer that has spread in the last 12 months.


What are the benefits of organ and tissue donation?

Organ and tissue donation can have an enormous impact on the lives of those desperately seeking transplants. It’s often the case that donation will save lives by providing ill individuals with a replacement organ that allows them to keep on living or which drastically improves the quality of their lives.

There are numerous diseases and illnesses out there that can only be treated or cured through transplants, such as congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis and polycystic kidney disease, and becoming an organ donor is one way of helping the individuals who suffer from them. Though it can’t take away the pain of losing someone close, knowing that someone else is alive because of a loved one’s final donation can provide solace when trying to deal with the grieving process.


What is the difference between donating to medicine and science?

Whereas medical donations go directly to another human being to improve their quality of life, medical science will use the body, organs or tissue to train new healthcare professionals or for research purposes.

When we talk about donating our bodies to medical science, we generally mean donating our body to a local medical school to train new doctors. However, in some cases it can refer to the use of certain organs or tissues for research purposes. This is becoming more common amongst those suffering debilitating illnesses affecting the brain, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, as it is hoped this could assist in developing a cure. You can find out more about donating your body to science here.


What does donation involve?

The specifics of donation depend on what type of donation you want to pursue. For instance, you can donate certain organs whilst still alive, though there are very strict rules about who is eligible and how the process is managed. If you donate your organs after death, the regulations are different again.

Donors do retain control over which organs can be used by selecting those they wish to donate when they sign up to the Organ Donor Register, assuring that the individual has the last word when it comes to what happens to their body after death.


What happens to the body after donation?

Medical professionals responsible for removing organs upon death will administer a number of tests to ensure the individual is actually dead before they perform any procedure. They treat the body with the utmost respect and dignity and carefully close and cover any surgical incisions after the procedure.

As bodies are clothed for open-casket funerals and there is no physical indication that any surgery has taken place, organ or tissue donation has absolutely no impact on your ability to hold an open-casket funeral. Due to the need for transplants to take place very soon after death, there is no significant increase in the length of time it takes for a body to be returned to relatives. In terms of donating to medical science, if the body is accepted, the medical school will keep it for as long as it is useful and then cremate it. The family of the deceased will receive the ashes.

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