Considering organ or body donation?

Mar 16, 2017

It may not be something you want to think about as you go about your everyday life, but at some point there will come the question - what do you want to happen to your body when you die?

Organ Donation

Organ donation has received a lot of press in recent years, with the NHS Organ Donation campaign in full swing across radio, TV and social media to encourage people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Around 6,500 people at any one time are waiting for an organ transplant in the UK alone, and stats show that on average 3 people die every day as they needed a new organ that was sadly not available in time. Public awareness of organ donation is at an all-time high and yet only 5,000 people who die each year are actually acceptable candidates for organ donation, so this may be something you would like to consider for when your time has come.

Living organ donation is also a possibility to consider, although obviously the organs that can be used are a lot less.

Organ Donor Register


The Organ Donor Register is operated by the NHS and you can sign up online here. Once you have successfully signed up to be an organ donor, you will receive a card in the post that you can keep on your person at all times, so if the worst happens, those who are involved with your death will know you wish, if possible, to donate your organs to those in need.

What happens if I don't sign up?

If you don't sign up, which is totally your decision, your family may still be approached upon your death if the circumstances are such that your organs may still be eligible for donation. With this in mind, it is a good idea to make your wishes clear to family both verbally and in writing as soon as possible (as, after all, not all deaths are expected!)

If you feel strongly that you do NOT wish to be an organ donor then it is especially important you make this clear, as your family may still decide to donate your organs after your death if they don't know what your personal decision would have been.

Organ Donation Decisions for a minor (person under 16)

There is no age limit on organ donation, but anyone under 16 cannot legally make this decision for themselves. If you are under 16 and want to be an organ donor then the best thing you can do is write your wishes down and discuss it with your family and caregivers. That way, they can give consent on your behalf, knowing you would fully support the decision.

If you are responsible for a child who is not old enough to take responsibility for this decision or even understand what it all means, and that child sadly passes away, you are able to give consent for organ donation should you feel this is something you would like to do. Nobody will pressure you into making this decision.

Living Donation

Living organ donation is a process in which an organ (most likely a kidney) is donated by one person to another whilst both parties are still alive. Living donation is not a decision to be taken lightly as the operation and subsequent recovery will have their own implications, and full medical checks will be undertaken before any stage of the process commences.

Restrictions on Organ Donation

You cannot be an organ donor in select circumstances; these are:

  • If you have HIV (you may still be able to donate to someone who already has HIV)

  • If you have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

  • If you have any type of cancer that has spread in the last 12 months.

Any other existing medical condition will be assessed on an individual basis.

Body Donation


Body donation is different to organ donation as you are making the decision to donate your entire body when you die for a different purpose.

Body donation is done typically to aid medical research and teaching, and medical schools will be the ones to receive the body. Typically this will be the nearest accepting medical school to the area you live, so transport of the body is not complicated - if you move address to a different area, then you may need to re-register with another medical school closer to your home.

Eligibility for Body Donation

Whilst you can register to donate your body whilst you're still alive, and it is very important to make your wishes clear both verbally and in written format for those dealing with your death, the actual eligibility for body donation will be decided after the cause of death has been determined. To put it simply, the circumstances in which you die may mean your body isn't eligible. In addition, there may not be the need at the medical school of your choice for your body, in which case they would decline and your relatives would need to proceed with funeral arrangements to inter or cremate your remains.

Organ donation AND body donation?

You can register for both, but most medical schools will decline a body that has already had organs removed. However, if after death your organs are not suitable for donation then they will typically accept your body, but valid consent needs to be in place first.