Organ donation process

Every organ donation is different. Once a family has provided consent, they will be asked to complete the necessary paperwork to confirm that the donation will proceed. While each situation may vary slightly, after a family provides consent, the following steps for organ donation would take place:

  • The DonateLife Donor Coordinator speaks to the donor family and completes a questionnaire about their loved ones' medical and social history. The donor's GP may also be contacted for further information.
  • The DonateLife Donor Coordinator arranges for medical tests to match the organ to a potential recipient, to check for infectious diseases and to ensure the organs are suitable for donation.

What does the donation operation involve?

The donation operation is performed in the hospital operatin gtheatre and is is conducted with the same care as any other operation. This operation is performed by highly skilled surgeons and health professionals. 

Depending on which organs and tissues are being donated, the operation can take up to 8 hours to complete.

What happens after the operation?

Following the operation, the donated organs will be transported from the operating theatre to the hospitals where transplantation will occur. If the family would like to see their loved one after the operation, this can be arranged by the donation specialist staff.

Will the person look different?

When a person has died, and blood and oxygen are no longer circulating around the body it is usual for them to appear pale and for their skin to feel cool. The donation operation does not result in any other significant changes to the person's appearance. The surgical incision made during the operation will be closed and covered as in any other operation.

Will funeral arrangements be affected?

Organ and tissue donation does not affect funeral arrangements. Viewing the loved one and an open casket funeral are both possible. If a coroner's investigation is required, this may delay funeral arrangements.

When is a Coroner's investigation required?

Some deaths, such as those following an accident or due to unnatural causes (eg. poisoning, suicide) are required by law to be reported to the court and investigated by a coroner. Any decision about donation does not influence whether a coroner's investigation is required. The hospital or donation specialist staff will discuss with the family if the circumstances of the death means it is reportable to the coroner.

Most state and territory coroner's offices provide access to counsellors who can provide more detailed information and support about the process when a coronial investigation is required.

Can the family change their minds about their donation decision?

Yes. The family can change their minds about donation at any point up to the time when the patient is taken to the operating room.

What are the religious opinions about donation?

Most major religions are supportive of organ and tissue donation. If a family has any questions they would like to discuss, the donation specialist staff can provide them with additional information, and assist them in contacting their religious leader.

Will the person's family be expected to pay for the cost of donation?

No, there is no financial cost to the family for the donation.

Which organs and tissues will be donated?

The donation specialist will discuss with the family which organs and tissues may be possible to donate. This will depend on the person's age, medical history, and the circumstances of their death. 

Does the person's family have a say in who receives the organs and tissues?

Organ and tissue allocation is determined by transplant teams in accordance with national protocols. These are based on a number of criteria, including who will most benefit from the generous gift of donation, the best match and waiting lists, to ensure the best possible outcome of the donation.

Will the person's organs definitely be transplanted?

At the time of the retrieval or transplant surgery it can sometimes become clear that organs intended for donation are not medically suitable for transplantation. The donation specialist will discuss this with the family if it arises.

Is transplantation always successful?

Australia is internationally recognised for its successful transplants and having excellent long-term survival of recipients. The majority of people who receive a transplant benefit greatly and are able to lead full and active lives as a result. Transplantation, however, is not without risk including that of the tranplant surgery and the ongoing treatments required after transplantation.

Will the family receive information about the patients who have benefited from the donation?

Health professionals involved in donation and tranplantaion must keep the identity of donors and recipients anonymous by law. Initial outcomes will be discusssed with families, and families can request further updates form the DonateLife Agency. Donor families and transplant recipients can write anonymous letters to each other through the state or territory donation agency and transplant units.

Donor Family Support Services

In Australia, donor families are provided with support trhough the National Donor Family Support Service. This service provides nationally consistent support that is respectful and responsive to the needs of each family.

Donor Family Support Coordinators are located in each state and territory DonateLife agency. The Donor Family Support Coordinator provides information and assistance to support donor families after donation.

In the first month following donation, the DonateLife Donor Coordinator and/or the Donor Family Support Coordinator provide donor families with an information pack which includes support services available to them in their state or territory and anonymous details about the recipients.

Find out more about the DonateLife Donor Family Support Services.

Donor Family Support Resources

The OTA , in partnership with the DonateLife Network, has produced a range of resources to support donor families. Some of these resources are also available in 18 languages to facilitate access to these important resources to families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Find out more about the Donor Family Supoort Resources


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the facts about organ and
tissue donation

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Understanding donation


and register on the Australian
Organ Donor Register

  • Register your decision


your donation decision with family and friends

  • Who needs to know?
  • How to start the discussion