The person who died may have requested body, organ or tissue donation
Some people very generously choose to donate their body to medical science. In most cases bodies donated are used for teaching anatomy to medical students or for trainee surgeons to refine their skills. Each medical school has responsibility for a certain area of the country and you can find the list of postcodes and contact details for the medical schools at www.hta.gov.uk. This activity is regulated in law by the Human Tissue Authority.
Medical students are taught to treat the bodies of people who have donated with respect and usually the deceased person will be covered except for the area which is being taught at the time.
At the end of the period for which the deceased person is kept (usually 2-3 years), the medical school will arrange a funeral, usually a cremation. This is paid for by the medical school. If a family wants to arrange a funeral themselves they can do so by informing the medical school of this.
Each year the medical school will organise a memorial service for the people who have donated their bodies and their families will be invited. Medical students will usually take part in the service and attend as a gesture of gratitude to both the people who died and their families.
Sometimes the body of someone who wanted to donate cannot be accepted. This may be because they had certain medical conditions which make this impossible or because the coroner needs to do a post-mortem examination.
Usually a person donating organs will have been cared for in intensive care and had life support through a mechanical ventilator and drugs delivered through intravenous lines (drips).
If you have agreed to organ donation these supportive measures will remain in place when the patient is taken to the operating theatre even though they will have had brain stem tests to ensure that they died. This can feel very strange because they will still feel warm to the touch and have a heartbeat at this stage.
The support measures will remain in place until towards the end of the operation to remove the organs being given. The wounds will be stitched and the nurses in the operating room or recovery ward will care for the body just as if they had died on an ordinary ward.
Most people are aware that hundreds of lives are saved every year by donated organs, such as hearts and kidneys. Many people do not realise that donated tissues such as skin, bone, and heart valves can dramatically improve the quality of life for others, and even save them. As many as 50 people can behelped from the donation of one person.
The best time is within 24 hours after someone has died. However, sometimes it is possible to donate up to 48 hours after death.
For further information and advice, please contact Tissue Services Direct on 0300 123 23 23
If you would like information as to how you could become an organ or tissue donor, please visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk
Almost anyone can be considered for tissue donation, however, there are some rare exemptions. To ensure that all donated tissues are safe, the donor’s medical and life style history is assessed similar to blood donors, to protect the person receiving the tissue from infection.
Yes. Only those tissues for which you have given permission will be donated.
Eyes can help restore sight to people with cornea problems (the clear part of the eye). This may be a result of damage caused by eye disease or injury, or defects from birth, and the white part of the eye (the sclera) can be used in operations to rebuild the eye.
Heart valves can be transplanted to save the lives of children born with heart defects, and adults with damaged heart valves.
Skin can be used as a natural dressing, helping to treat people with serious burns. This can save lives by stopping infections, can help to reduce scarring and reduces pain.
Bone is important for people receiving artificial joint replacements, or replacing bone that has been removed due to illness or injury. It helps reduce pain and improve mobility.
Tendons, the elastic-like cords that attach bones and muscles to each other, can be donated to help rebuild damaged joints, which helps people move more easily.