Organ and Tissue Authority

Frequently asked questions

About organ and tissue donation

  • How long do people wait for transplants?

    Waiting times are usually between six months and four years, but there are cases where the recipient must wait even longer. Around 1,650 people are currently waitlisted for a transplant. A further 12,000 additional people are on dialysis and may benefit from a kidney transplant.

  • What is organ and tissue donation?

    Organ donation is a life-saving and life-transforming medical process.

    Deceased organ and tissue donation involves removing organs and tissues from someone who has died (a donor) and transplanting them into someone who, in many cases, is very ill or dying (a recipient). 

    Living organ and tissue donation is when a person donates either a kidney, part of a liver or bone while they are still alive.

  • What is paired kidney exchange?

    Most living kidney donation happens between people who already know each other. However sometimes it can be difficult to find a good match as blood types have to correspond and tissue must be compatible.

    The Australian and New Zealand Paired Kidney Exchange (ANZKX) Program uses a computer system to match kidney donors with people they don't know.

    For example, Peter wants to donate a kidney to his wife Mary, but he has blood type A and Mary is blood type B. They both register with the program. Meanwhile, Julia wants to donate a kidney to her son George, but she is blood type B and George is blood type A. Through the program, Peter anonymously gives George a kidney and Julia anonymously gives Mary a kidney.

    Find out more at the ANZKX Program page.

  • Who can become an organ and tissue donor?

    Almost everyone can help others through organ and tissue donation. The main factors are where and how someone dies and the condition of their organs and tissue.

    While your age and medical history will be considered, you shouldn’t assume you’re too young, too old or not healthy enough to become a donor:

    • older Australians with chronic health conditions can be donors
    • people who smoke, drink or have an unhealthy diet can still donate
    • only a few medical conditions may prevent someone being a donor
    • all major religions support organ and tissue donation for transplantation

    The most important thing is to talk to your family about donation and to register.

  • I lived in the UK during 'mad cow disease'. Can I donate my organs or tissue?

    You may still be able to donate your organs, but not your tissue.

  • Why do people need transplants?

    People who need an organ transplant are very ill or dying because an organ is failing. These people range from babies and children through to older people.

    People who need a tissue transplant include those who may need to have bone replaced as the result of surgery, a corneal transplant so that they can see, or skin grafting in the case of severe burns.

  • What is 'living donation'?

    Living donation is when a person donates either a kidney, part of their liver or bone while they are still alive.

    Find out more about becoming a living donor.

  • Which organs and tissues can be removed?

    Organs that can be transplanted include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas.

    Tissue that can be transplanted includes heart valves and other heart tissue, bone, tendons, ligaments, skin and parts of the eye such as the cornea and sclera.

  • Is organ and tissue donation against my religion?

    All major religions support organ and tissue donation for transplantation. For more information about your faith and culture in a range of languages, take a look at our multicultural resources.

  • What is the difference between organ and tissue donation?

    Organ donation is a rare event. Only about 2 per cent of people who die in Australian hospital – approximately 1,300 – meet the criteria required to be an organ donor. Deceased organ donation can only happen after a person has died, usually in an intensive care unit and under strict conditions.

    A far greater number of people have the opportunity to donate tissue for transplantation. People can become eye and tissue donors up to 24 hours after death, regardless of where death occurs. Tissue donation doesn’t require the donor’s death to have occurred under the same limited circumstances as organ donation. 

After donation

  • When is a coroner's investigation required?

    Some deaths, such as those following an accident or due to unnatural causes (such as poisoning or suicide) are required by law to be reported to the court and investigated by a coroner. The hospital or donation specialist staff will discuss with the family if the circumstances of the death means it must be reported to the coroner.

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

  • 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 go on to lead full and active lives.

  • What support services are available for donor families?

    The donation specialist staff will keep in contact with the donor's family and provide ongoing support and information.

    Each state and territory DonateLife agency have dedicated staff to support donor families and provide information and assistance in the days, weeks and months after donation.

    Find out more about donor family support services.

  • 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.

  • Will my 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 and donation takes place. Families are still responsible for funeral expenses.

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

    By law, health professionals involved in donation and transplantation must keep the identity of donors and recipients anonymous. However, limited details will be discussed with families.

    Families can request further updates from their local DonateLife agency. Donor families and transplant recipients can also write anonymous letters to each other through the state or territory donation agency and hospital transplant units.

  • Will the donor look different after surgery?

    Donation does not cause any significant changes to the person's appearance. The surgical incision made during the operation will be closed and covered as in any other operation. It will not be visible beneath the person's clothes.

Registering and discussing your decision to donate

  • What happens if my family can't be contacted when I die and I'm registered as an organ and tissue donor?

    The hospital and, if necessary, the police will make all efforts to contact your family and tell them you are in hospital. If your family cannot be contacted, a designated officer will try to contact your friends or acquaintances to see if they knew whether you wanted to become an organ and tissue donor.

    The Australian Organ Donor Register will also be checked. The officer will then make a recommendation to the medical team.

  • How do I register my decision to be a donor?

    People 16 years of age or older can register to become an organ and tissue donor.

    The Australian Organ Donor Register records your decision and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to be checked by authorised personnel anywhere in Australia. 


  • Why do we ask you to talk to your family about donation?

    It is important for every Australian family to talk about organ and tissue donation. This is because the family of potential donors will be asked to say yes to organ and tissue donation before it can proceed.

  • Can I register if I'm under 18? Can I register my children?

    You can register an 'intent to be an organ and tissue donor' with the Australian Organ Donor Register from the age of 16. You can only fully register from the age of 18. Children cannot be registered by their parents, but their family can approve donation if they were to pass away.

    If you are under 18, or have children, we want you to talk to your family about donation so that they are aware of your wishes.

The donation process

  • Can the family change their minds about donation?

    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.

  • How can I make sure I become a donor?

    If your family supports donation, everything possible will be done to make sure those wishes are fulfilled. However, sometimes a person's organs are not medically suitable for transplantation. The donation specialist will discuss this with your family if it arises.

  • How does the tissue donation process work?
    1. When a person dies it may be possible for tissue donation (unlike organ donation, death does not need to occur within a hospital setting)
    2. Notification of the death needs to occur ASAP after death, as tissue donation has to take place within the 24hrs after death
    3. Death within a hospital setting (if tissue donation can be facilitated within your local health area):
      • All deaths will be notified directly to appropriate staff
    4. Death outside of a hospital setting:
      • Notification should be to your local DonateLife Agency, who will direct your call 
      • Notification of death can be made by a family member, care facility (such as a nursing home/ palliative care) or from a funeral home
    5. Authorised staff will assess preliminary medical suitability
    6. If it is determined that a person is medically suitable to donate tissue, trained staff will phone the family to discuss the possibility of donation
    7. During the phone call:
      • tissue donation will be discussed and the family will be supported in making the decision that is right for them
      • if consent is given – a form about their loved ones' medical and social history will be completed over the phone with the family
    8. Final medical suitability will be obtained, including contacting the donor’s GP for further information
    9. The tissue donation procedure will take place
  • How are organs and tissue removed?

    Removing organs and tissue is no different from any other surgical procedure on a living person.

    The donor’s body is always treated with dignity and respect. Donating organs and tissue doesn’t alter the physical appearance of the donor and does not affect funeral arrangements.

  • When can organ and tissue donation occur?

    Donation of organs for transplantation is sometimes possible after the death of a patient in the ICU, or less commonly in other hospital areas such as the emergency department. Usually the death is the result of a sudden, unexpected illness or injury.

    Only a small percentage of people who die in hospital will be able to donate their organs. For this reason, it is important that all potential donors are identified and their families are supported to make informed decisions about donation.

  • How does the organ donation process work?
    1. When a person dies in a situation where they can become a donor, the possibility of donation is raised with their family.
    2. Authorised hospital staff check the Australian Organ Donor Register to find out whether the person had registered to be a donor. A donation specialist doctor or nurse meets with the family to talk about donation and supports them in making the decision that is right for them.
    3. When a family agrees to donation, the donation specialist staff will complete a form about their loved ones' medical and social history. The donor's GP may also be contacted for further information.
    4. Medical tests will then be arranged to ensure that the organs are medically suitable for transplantation and can be matched to potential recipients. Donation won't proceed without a matched recipient.
    5. During and after the process, the donor’s family are supported by donation specialist staff.
    6. All organ donations and transplants are performed by specialist medical teams in the public health system.
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