Organ and tissue donation
If you have active cancer you cannot donate organs but you still usually donate tissue. If the cancer has not come back after several years it may then be possible to donate organs.
Only a few people die in a situation where they can donate their organs. Donors are usually people who have died in a hospital intensive care unit or emergency department.
If you have active cancer, you cannot donate organs. If the cancer was treated a few years ago and has not come back, it may be possible to donate your organs.
You can still usually donate tissue, such as your cornea (the clear tissue at the front of the eye).
The process of organ or tissue donation is complex. Your healthcare team will be able to give you more information about your situation.
Only you can decide if you wish to donate your organs or tissue. But it is important to talk to your family or friends about what you want. They can then follow your wishes.
In England, Wales, and Scotland, you are expected to opt out if you do not want to be an organ donor. This means you must register a wish to not be a donor. This is called opting out.
You still have a choice about whether you want to become an organ donor. But if you have not opted out when you die, the law allows for the donation of certain organs and tissue for transplantation. This does not apply to certain excluded groups for example, if:
- you lack mental capacity (ability to make a decision) to understand the law
- you are aged under 18 or in Scotland 16 or over.
Only you can decide if you wish to donate your organs or tissue. But it is important to talk to your family or friends about what you want. They can then follow your wishes. You can change your donation decision or preferences at any time.
Organ donation laws vary across different countries in the United Kingdom.
The NHS provides information about organ donation and the law in the UK.
Some other websites that provide further information include:
Some people want to donate their body to help with medical training or research.
If you are thinking about donating your body, talk about it with your close family or friends so they know what you want. You should also tell your healthcare team. Make sure this is included in any advance care or future care planning document so your wishes can be followed.
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.
Start by contacting the closest medical school or university to you. They will answer any questions and give you the legal papers to sign. You can search for your nearest medical school on the Human Tissue Authority website.
Not everyone who wishes to donate their body for teaching or research will be able to. This may be due to medical reasons. Or the medical school or university may not be able to take your body at the time. So you need to make other plans in case the donation is not accepted.
You cannot ask for your body to be used only for research into a certain disease.
The Human Tissue Authority or local university anatomy department can give you more information about donating your body for medical research.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our advanced care planning information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at email@example.com
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Advance care planning – A quick guide for registered managers of care homes and home care services. 2019. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/about/nice-communities/social-care/quick-guides/advance-care-planning [accessed May 2023].
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Decision making and mental capacity. 2020. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs194 [accessed May 2023].
NHS England. Universal Principles for Advance Care Planning (ACP). 2022. Available from: england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/universal-principles-for-advance-care-planning.pdf [accessed May 2023].
Healthcare Improvement Scotland. Anticipatory Care Planning in Scotland: Supporting people to plan ahead and discuss their wishes for future care. 2020. Available from: www.healthcareimprovementscotland.org [accessed May 2023].
GOV.UK. Office of the Public Guardian. Make, register or end a lasting power of attorney. Available from: www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney/make-lasting-power [accessed May 2023].
Office of the Public Guardian (Scotland). Power of attorney. Available from: publicguardian-scotland.gov.uk/power-of-attorney/power-of-attorney/what-is-a-power-of-attorney [accessed May 2023].
Citizens Advice. www.citizensadvice.org.uk [accessed January 2023].
GOV.UK www.gov.uk [accessed January 2023].
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Viv Lucas, Consultant in Palliative Medicine.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.
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