Living organ donation 

The shortage of organs has led to more people receiving organs from living donors. Although this involves carrying out major surgery, results are often very successful.

Before a living donor transplant can take place, strict regulations must be met and there must be a thorough process of assessment and discussion.

See below for more information about the regulations and assessment process.

Living organ donations

Kidneys are the most common organ donated by a living person. It's possible for a healthy person to lead a completely normal life with only one working kidney. Around half of all kidney transplants carried out are now from living donors.

It's also possible for part of a liver to be donated, and in some circumstances it may also be possible to donate a segment of lung (although this hasn't been done in the UK). In a very small number of cases, part of the small bowel may also be transplanted.

Who can be a living donor?

Living organ donation usually involves one family member donating an organ to another family member or a partner. The relative is usually blood related – a parent, brother, sister or child.

It's also possible to be an altruistic donor. These are donors who are unrelated and unconnected to the patient. They become donors as an act of personal generosity.

Living donation will only go ahead if the blood group and tissue type of the donor and recipient are compatible.

Paired donation

If a relative or spouse wishes to donate but isn't a match for the person who needs a transplant, the couple can be paired with a similar donor and recipient who don't match. This allows each recipient to benefit from a transplant that they wouldn't otherwise have had.

You can read more about living kidney donation on the NHS Organ Donation website. 

Success and survival rates

Kidneys from a living donor tend to last longer than those donated from someone who has died.

In people who receive a kidney from someone who has died, research has shown:

  • 94% of kidneys will still be working after one year
  • 85% of kidneys will still be working after five years
  • 72% of kidneys will still be working after 10 years

However, in kidney transplants where the kidney is donated from a living donor:

  • 97% of kidneys will still be working after one year
  • 91% of kidneys will still be working after five years
  • 77% of kidneys will still be working after 10 years

Regulations and assessment

The Human Tissue Act 2004 and the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 provide the legal background for living donation in the UK. It's regulated by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA).

The HTA consists of a chair and 11 authority members, nine of whom are appointed by the Secretary of State for Health. Most members have medical and scientific backgrounds.

The HTA's role in living donation is to ensure: 

  • donors or their family members aren't put under pressure to donate an organ
  • no payment is made for the donation – paying for donated organs is illegal in the UK  

After the organ donor and the recipient have been assessed by the transplant team, an independent assessor from the HTA will assess the donor. They'll make sure all the legal requirements for the donation have been met.

You can read more about the codes of practice on the HTA website.

Page last reviewed: 24/11/2014

Next review due: 24/11/2017