Our Guide to Understanding the Organ Donor Register


Ignatius Uirab

Money Savings Advice Guide to understanding the organ donor register

What Is the Organ Donor Register?

The organ donor register is a centralised, confidential list of everyone in the UK who has consented to donate their organs or tissue when they die in order to help others.

Changes to the Organ Donor Register

The new legislation is known as ‘Max and Kiera’s law’ has changed the way the organ donor register works in England.

It used to be the case that in order to join the register in England, you had signed up. However, the system changed on 20th May 2020 and is now an opt-out system. This means that everyone in England is considered a potential donor when they die unless they apply to be taken off the register.

While people still have a choice about whether or not to donate, it is believed that by switching to this system, more people will consent to donate their organs.

The change came following a campaign led by the family of a 9-year-old boy, Max Johnson, who was waiting for a life-saving heart transplant. They argued that an opt-out system would help reduce the waiting time and anguish of thousands of people in need of a transplant. Max Johnson eventually received a heart from a young girl, Kiera Ball, who died in a road traffic accident.

Wales has used an opt-in system since 2015 and Scotland will switch to the new system from March 2021.

The opt-in system is still in place in Northern Ireland and crown dependencies such as Guernsey and Jersey, and there are no plans to change it in the near future.

Who Is on It?

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and crown dependencies (e.g. Guernsey & Jersey), you must sign up to the organ donor register in order to be listed on it.

In Northern Ireland, you can be added to the register after your death, if you nominate two trusted adults to make the decision before you die.

Across England and Wales, most adults are now listed on the organ donor register by default. You can request to be taken off it, and certain people may be excluded, including:

  • Children
  • Visitors and people who have lived in England for less than 12 months at the time of their death
  • People who were not in England voluntarily at the time of their death
  • Adults who lack the mental capacity to understand the laws of the new changes in organ donation

Why Is It Needed?

Every day in the UK, at least one person dies while waiting for an organ transplant. They may have to wait for a long time for the tissue or organs needed to save them, because the tissue must come from a donor who shares certain characteristics with the sick person, such as blood type or ethnicity.

In addition to this, only a very small number of the half a million people who die in the UK each year can be considered as potential donors. This is because tissue and organs quickly degrade if they are not transplanted soon after death. For this reason, donors are almost always people who died in a hospital emergency department.

If healthy tissue can be taken from somebody who has died, it may be able to help save or improve the lives of up to nine people waiting for an organ donation.

Donor tissue may be used to treat an enormous range of conditions. For example, skin tissue is used to make skin grafts for severe burns victims, while a healthy kidney may allow someone with kidney problems to live normally again after years of dialysis.

Do You Need to Donate All Your Organs?

Across the UK, you can choose which organs you want to donate. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and crown dependencies, you fill this out on a form when you first sign up to the register.

In England and Wales, all of your organs are automatically considered for a potential donation. However, you can select exactly which organs you would be willing to donate by completing an application to join the register. Even though you would already be listed on the register, filling out an application yourself gives you the opportunity to specify the organs you are prepared to donate.

What Happens When Someone on the Register Dies?

When someone on the organ donor register dies, their family will be consulted to discuss the possibility of donation.

A specialist nurse will work with the family to establish whether consent to donate their organs was the last known decision of the deceased and to discuss any concerns the family may have.

As part of these discussions, the family can raise any religious or cultural considerations regarding the donation. The nurse will see the screen the deceased person by asking the family to provide information about the travel history and lifestyle of the deceased. Along with medical records, this can help establish whether the organs to be donated are safe for someone else to receive.

If the family consent and the organs are suitable for donation, surgery is carried out on the body to remove the donor’s organs. As with normal surgery, wounds are dressed after the procedure. The donated organs are then transferred to the intended donor.

Because organs and tissue must be removed from a donor as soon as possible after their death, organ donation rarely delays the release of the body to the family.

Can the Family of a Deceased Person Prevent Their Organs Being Donated?

Yes. In all cases of organ donation, the family will be consulted first. It may be the case that the nurse specialist is able to allay the fears or concerns of family members who would otherwise prevent them from agreeing to the donation. However, without the family’s consent, the donation does not go ahead.

Can Organs or Tissue Be Sold?

No. Across the UK, the sale or trade of organs and tissue is strictly illegal. If you choose to donate your organs, they may be gifted to a person who is in need of them but can never be sold.

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Ignatius Uirab

Ignatius is one of our leading financial specialists. With over eight years of financial experience, he has vast experience and knowledge of the financial sector. When he is not writing about how to make your money go further, he is a true family man.

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