Organs Or Body Donations

Organs or body donations - If the organs or body are to be donated

Once death has occurred you will have to act quickly if it was the wish of the deceased or the nearest relative to donate the organs for transplant, or the whole body for medical teaching purposes.

The usual procedure is to approach the next of kin to make sure they do not object to organ donation.

Under the Human Tissue Act, written consent for body donation must be given prior to death; consent cannot be given by anyone else after your death. A consent form can be obtained from your local medical school and a copy should be kept in your will. You should also inform your family, close friends and GP that you wish to donate your body.

If the death has to be reported to the Coroner, the Coroner's consent may be necessary before the organs or body can be donated. A medical certificate must be issued before any organs can be removed or the body used.

It is usual for kidneys, and essential for heart, lungs, liver and pancreas, to be removed from donors:

  • who have been certified to be brain stem dead, and
  • whose breathing, and hence heartbeat, are maintained by a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit.

Kidneys can, very rarely, be removed up to an hour after heart death. Other organs can be removed up to the following times after heart death:

  • the corneas (from the eyes) - up to 24 hours
  • skin - up to 24 hours
  • bone - up to 36 hours
  • heart valves - up to 72 hours.

The doctor attending will advise on procedure. After organ donation, the body is released to the relatives.

New arrangements are in place, following the Human Tissue Act 2004, to provide information and help for people who wish to donate their body for medical education, training or research, and for bereaved relatives whose loved one expressed such a wish before they died.

After 1 September 2006, information can be obtained from the following sources:

For England and Wales:

The Human Tissue Authority
Finlaison House
15-17 Furnival Street
London EC4A 1AB
Tel: 020 7211 3400

Consideration will be given to the place and cause of death, the condition of the body at the time of death and demand in the medical schools. The body may then be accepted. Bodies may be refused if there has been a post-mortem or if any major organs except the cornea (part of the eye) have been removed.

People who choose to donate their body or organs do so in the hope that they will be useful to others after their death. Despite being separate donation systems, it is possible for a person to be registered as an organ donor and to have registered their wish to donate their body, after death, to a medical school.

Medical schools will usually decline a body donation if the person has undergone surgery to remove organs for transplantation. However, if after their death, the person is found unsuitable to be an organ donor, then body donation to a medical school can be taken forward by the relatives, solicitor or executor of the will.

If a person wishes to register for both organ donation and body donation, the HTA suggests that the person includes this in their will and ensures that those closest to them are aware of their wishes.

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