Thinking about organ and tissue donation

You may think that having a medical condition such as cancer means you cannot donate your organs or tissue to another person when you die. It is possible to donate if you have had cancer, but it may affect what you can donate.

An example of an organ is a kidney and an example of body tissue is the corneas of the eye.

If you decide to be an organ donor and you have a medical condition such as cancer, a healthcare professional will review your medical history after you have died. They will then decide whether one or more of your organs or tissues are suitable for donation.

It is important to discuss organ or tissue donation with people close to you, such as family and friends. This means that when the time comes, they will find it easier to follow your wishes. It also means they will be prepared if donation is not possible.

Corneal transplants

The cornea is one type of tissue that is usually suitable for donation if a person dies with cancer.

The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of each eye. It lets light into the eye and focuses it on the retina so we can see. If someone’s cornea becomes damaged, it can mean they are no longer able to see. Corneal transplants can replace the damaged tissue with a disc of healthy tissue from a donor’s eye (or eyes). This can allow the person to see again.

Finding out more about organ and tissue donation

England

In England, you choose to donate organs. However, the law on consent for organ donation is changing. No changes are expected before Spring 2020.

You can find out more about donation on the NHS Blood and Transplant website. They keep a register of people who wish to donate their organs or tissue after their death. You can join the register online, by phone or by text.

Wales

In Wales 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.

If you want to be a donor, you can:

  • register your decision – this is called opting in
  • do nothing, which means you have no objection to being a donor – this is called deemed consent.

You can find more information about this on the Organ Donation Wales website.

Scotland

In Scotland, the law on consent for organ donation is changing. But no changes are expected before 2020. You can read more about the changes on the Scottish Government website.

You can find out more about donation on the Organ Donation Scotland website. They keep a register of people who wish to donate their organs or tissue after their death. You can join the register online, by phone or by text.

Donating your body for medical research

If you would like to donate your body for medical teaching or research, you should discuss it with your GP, hospital team or palliative care team. You should also discuss it with your close family or friends.

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.

Not everyone who wishes to donate their body for teaching or research will be able to. The Human Tissue Authority can give you more information.

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