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Some people may want to donate their organs or tissue to another person when they die.
The ways people can plan ahead vary across the four nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and there are also some legal differences. The web pages in this section are about the ways people can plan ahead if they live in England and Wales. If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland you should ask a healthcare or legal professional to give you information that’s relevant to that country.
Many people think that if they have a medical condition such as cancer, they won’t be able to donate their organs (such as a kidney) or tissue (such as the corneas of the eye) to another person when they die. Having, or having had, a diagnosis of cancer doesn’t exclude you from organ or tissue donation; in fact, very few medical conditions do.
However, if you have a medical condition such as cancer, a healthcare professional will review your medical history after you have died and decide whether one or more of your organs or tissues are suitable for donation. This means that while you’re alive you won’t know whether your organs or tissues will be suitable for donation - only your family will know this after you have died.
The cornea is one type of tissue that’s usually suitable for donation if a person dies with cancer. The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of the eye. It lets light into the eye and focuses it on the retina so we can see. When the cornea becomes diseased or injured, vision can be lost. In this situation corneal transplants, which replace the diseased or injured tissue with a disc of healthy tissue from a donor’s eye(s), can successfully restore a person’s sight.
You can find more about organ and tissue donation by visiting the NHS Blood and Transplant| website. They keep a register for people who wish to donate their organs and/or tissue after their death. You can join the register online, by phoning the NHS donor line (0300 123 23 23) or by texting SAVE to 84118.
Some people want to donate their body for medical research. If you’re thinking about donating your body, it’s important to discuss this with your GP, hospital or palliative care team and with your family or friends closest to you. As part of the donation process, you and your next of kin will be asked to sign a consent form. You can get this form from your local medical school. A copy should be kept with your will.
If you want your tissue to be used for a specific type of research, you will need to let the healthcare professional who is dealing with the consent form know. Your wishes will need to be written on the consent form.
Not everyone who wishes to donate their body will be able to do so. This may be due to medical reasons. The Human Tissue Authority| can give you information about donating your body for medical research.
Content last reviewed: 1 September 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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