Donation of tissue and organs
Although you might not feel like thinking about it immediately, if you want to donate organs and tissue, you’ll have to make a decision very quickly. Some parts of the body can only be transplanted if consent is given almost immediately.
Major organs such as the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys will only be suitable for transplant if they come from an individual who died while in hospital on a ventilator. If the individual died at home or elsewhere, it will not be possible to use these donated organs.
The donation of organs and tissue is an incredible gift to give to another living person and even if you can’t donate any the main organs, there’s still many others which could prove to be of real use. Corneas, cartilage, bone, skin, tendons and heart valves can be used providing they are donated within 48 hours of the death. If the Coroner is overseeing the death, it may not always be possible to go ahead with donation; much depends on the cause of death and whether the organs and tissue may hold vital evidence.
In some cases, even without the involvement of the Coroner, donation may not be possible because of the underlying medical conditions, treatment or medication they received, or even the cause of death.
Individuals who wanted to be a donor should be carrying a donor card, as well as being listed on the NHS Donor Organ Register. Relatives will still be asked for permission however.
Donating the body for medical research
The Human Tissue Act 2004 allows individuals to take the decision to donate their body to medical research, but unlike the donation of organs and tissues, their next of kin cannot make the decision after their death.
Any person wanting to donate their body to be used in medical research must complete the appropriate authority form before they die. This can be obtained from the nearest medical school and individuals should make sure a copy of the completed version is attached to their Will. It’s also a good idea to let your GP and family know what you have decided.
Not all medical schools accept bodies for the purposes of research, and some only accept those from the local area to minimise costs. In some cases the body will be returned to the family after use, while others are cremated by the medical school. In some cases a small memorial service is held for those bodies being cremated.
More information about donating bodies to medical research can be found on the website at www.hta.gov.uk/donations.cfm.