Can my organs be removed after I die?

You can only donate your organs if:

  • you express a wish to donate your organs while you are alive, or the person closest to you (next of kin) gives their permission, and  
  • you die in hospital

Your organs cannot be removed if you or your next of kin have not given permission. 

Organ donations come from people whose death has been confirmed while on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit (donation after brain stem death) or from people whose heart has stopped beating (donation after circulatory death). In some cases, people can donate their organs if they die in a hospital emergency department or are pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital.

Organs can only be removed from someone with consent. You can give consent by indicating that you want to be an organ donor if you die. The best way to do this is by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register, as this makes it easier for NHS medical staff to establish your wishes. 

If it isn’t known whether you wanted to donate your organs in the event of your death, the person closest to you will be asked what they think you would have wanted and they can give consent to donation. That is why it is vital to let your family and friends know that you want to be an organ donor.

What is organ donation?

Organ donation is giving an organ to help someone who needs a transplant. Organs that can be donated include the: 

  • heart
  • liver 
  • lungs
  • kidneys
  • pancreas

Between April 1 2013 and March 31 2014, the generosity of donors and their families enabled 3,514 organ transplants to take place in the UK.

Organ donation saves thousands of lives, and can also improve the quality of life for many others. Between April 1 2013 and March 31 2014, 3,569 people had their sight restored by donated corneas.

Becoming an organ donor

The NHS Organ Donor Register is a confidential database that contains the names and wishes of people who want to be organ donors. It helps doctors to understand and carry out your wishes.

If you want to be an organ donor, as well as joining the register, it’s important to tell your family so that they are prepared in case anything happens to you. Organ donation will be far easier and comforting for your family to accept if you have already discussed your wishes with them.

Many people gain a great deal of comfort from knowing that the death of a loved one has helped to save the life of another person.

Joining the NHS Organ Donor Register

You can add or remove your details from the NHS Organ Donor Register at any time by:

You can also sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register when you:

  • fill out a driver's licence application form online 
  • register with a new doctor or GP

Read the answers to more questions about operations, tests and procedures.

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Page last reviewed: 05/02/2015

Next review due: 28/02/2017