Many people find organ donation a difficult subject to comprehend and, as such, it can often conjure up mixed feelings. There are a lot of myths and unfounded facts surrounding the subject that we hope to clarify for you here.

If you have any further questions or can't find the information you are looking for, please don't hesitate to email the LLTGL team

What is the Organ Donor Register?

The NHS Organ Donor Register is a confidential, computerised database which holds the details of more than 16.5 million people across the UK. The register is used after a person has died to help establish whether they had registered their interest to donate their organs and, if so, which organs. The register can only be checked by NHS staff. Even if you have signed the NHS Organ Donor Register it is still vital that you ensure that everyone around you, including your family, knows your wishes as your next of kin can still refuse consent at the time of your death. By sharing your wishes with them you are making things much easier for them and removing the upset of any indecision at what will already be a difficult time for them.

Do I need to register if I carry a donor card?

Yes. Cards can and do get lost or damaged and you may not be carrying one when you are taken to hospital. Adding your name to the register is a more permanent way of expressing your wishes. You can still carry a card if you wish to. Don't forget to tell your relatives what your wishes are.

Can I become an organ donor?

Anyone can sign the organ donor register and consent to their organs being used in the event of their death. However, only a small number of people die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs. You are actually more likely to need a transplant yourself than to become a donor. Organs have to be transplanted very soon after someone has died, so in most cases only people who die whilst on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit can donate their organs. This is generally as a result of a major accident, such as a car crash, brain haemorrhage or stroke. However, whilst only a few people die in circumstances, which would enable their organs to be donated, virtually everyone can donate their corneas to help others to see – and you can also give bone, skin and other tissue after death. Unlike organs, tissue can be donated up to 24 hours after a person has died and can be stored for longer periods.

Why should I discuss my wishes?

Whilst joining the NHS Organ Donor Register or carrying a donor card is a good start, the most important thing you can do is to let your family know your wishes. In the event of your death, they will have to agree to the donation. If they are not aware of your wishes, they may decline. Research shows that whilst 90% of people would be prepared to donate their organs in the event of their own death, 40% of relatives don't agree to donation when asked. One of the main reasons for refusal given by the families is that they didn't know whether the person would have agreed to donation. Sadly the topic of organ donation is often only first raised at a moment of intense tragedy, and discussing your wishes with your family could help alleviate an added difficulty should the time come.

Will they work as hard to save me if they know I want to be a donor?

Yes. The doctors looking after a patient have to make every possible effort to save the patient's life. Their duty is to the patient and their wellbeing, not to anyone else. They do not even know if a patient has signed up to be a donor whilst they are caring for them. If, despite their best efforts, the patient dies, only then can organ/tissue donation be considered, at which time a completely different team of doctors would be called in.

Does donation leave the body disfigured?

No. Organs and tissues are always removed with the greatest of care by trained surgeons and teams, who always ensure that the donor is treated with the utmost respect and dignity. This takes place in a normal operating theatre under the usual conditions. Afterwards the wound is carefully stitched and covered by a clean dressing. Only those organs and tissue specified by the donor or their family will be removed. Relatives may see the body after the operation if they wish

Why is there an increasing shortage of organs?

The number of organs available for transplant has been falling over recent years. At the same time the number of people needing a transplant is expected to rise steeply over the next decade. Very few people die in the circumstances required for being able to donate their organs and the numbers are falling because of welcome improvements in road safety and advances in medical treatment. Another major reason for the shortage of organs is that too few people think about donation or discuss it with their family. A recent survey showed that more than 50% hadn't discussed donating their organs or made sure that their families knew their wishes.

How successful are organ transplants?

Receiving a transplant can literally save, or at least dramatically improve, the quality of life for someone who is seriously ill. Advances in surgical skills and improved drugs mean that, one year post-surgery, the following proportions of transplants are still functioning well: 94% of kidneys in living donor transplants 88% of kidneys from people who have died 86% of organs in liver transplants 84% of organs in heart transplants These figures are improving all the time with the help of advanced research and techniques.

How can I find out more?

Take a look at our Did you know ... ? page which has lots of fascinating facts about organ donation. For more information visit NHSBT's website