Organ donation process
Every organ donation is different. Once a family has given its consent, they will be asked to complete the necessary paperwork to confirm the donation. While each situation may vary slightly, after a family gives consent, the following organ donation process takes place:
- The family and DonateLife donor coordinator complete a questionnaire about the potential donor's medical and social history. The donor's GP might 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.
When organ donation is able to proceed, the person who has died will be moved to an operating theatre for surgery. Below is some information on the donation process.
What does the donation operation involve?
The donation operation is conducted with the same care as any other operation, and the person's body is always treated with respect and dignity. This operation is performed by highly skilled surgeons and health professionals. Specialist doctors and their teams may be called in from other hospitals to perform the operation.
Similar to other operations, a surgical incision will be made in order to retrieve the organs, and this incision will then be closed and covered with a dressing. Depending on which organs and tissues are being donated, the operation can take from 3 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.
Will the person look different?
When a person dies, it is usual for them to appear pale and for their skin to feel cool, as blood and oxygen are no longer circulating around the body. However, 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 and will not be visible beneath the person's clothes.
Will funeral arrangements be affected?
Organ and tissue donation does not affect funeral arrangements. Viewing the body 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 deaths from unnatural causes or where the cause of death is unknown, are required by law to be investigated by the state or territory Coroner. In these circumstances, a coronial autopsy may be required. The hospital staff will discuss this with the family if it arises.
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 hospital 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 after death has been formally certified.
Which organs and tissues will be donated?
The hospital staff 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. The family will be asked to confirm which organs and tissues they agree to be donated. They will be asked to sign a consent form detailing this information.
Does the person's family have a say in who receives the organs and tissues?
No. The allocation of organs and tissues is determined by transplant teams in accordance with national protocols. These are based on a number of criteria, including waiting lists and who will be the best match, to ensure the best possible outcome of the donation.
Will the person's organs definitely be transplanted?
If the family supports donation, everything possible will be done to make sure those wishes are fulfilled. However, at the time of the donation it can sometimes become clear that organs intended for donation are not in fact medically suitable for transplantation. The hospital staff will discuss this with the family if it arises.
Is transplantation always successful?
Australia is internationally recognised for its successful transplants and its long-term survival of recipients. As with any operation, there are some risks associated with transplantation surgery, however, the majority of recipients benefit greatly from their transplants and are able to lead full and active lives as a result.
Will the family receive information about the patients who have benefited from the donation?
Australian law restricts identifying information being shared between donor and recipient families. However, the donation staff will provide ongoing information about which organs and tissues were transplanted, and the progress of the recipients. Donor families and transplant recipients can write anonymous letters to each other through the state or territory donation agency.
What support services are available for donor families?
The DonateLife staff will keep in contact with the family and provide ongoing support and information. State and territory DonateLife agencies can provide access to bereavement support and care.
You can find contact details for the DonateLife agency in your state or territory.
Donor Family Support
Families asked to confirm the organ and tissue donation decision of a loved one are dealing with loss and grief. Under such circumstances they can be helped by knowing that their family member wished to benefit others.
The Intensive Care Unit team caring for you and the DonateLife Agency Donation Specialist Coordinator and Donor Family Support Coordinator give the family as much support as they need during and after the decision to donate.
Families considering organ and tissue donation will also have access to free bereavement counselling.
The DonateLife Donation Specialist Coordinator will be the family's initial point of contact from the time donation is first discussed. They provide the link between the family and the medical team and will help the family after the donation, particularly with arranging a private farewell and/or a viewing of the body, if the family wishes.
The coordinator will contact the donor family with details of support offered in their state or territory. The coordinator can, if the family wishes, provide information on the outcomes of the donation and give details on how to write anonymously to the recipients.
Find out more about the DonateLife Donor Family Support Services.