After cardiac death, many people can be a donor for eyes, heart valves and cardiac tissue, long bones, pelvis, tendons, ligaments and skin. On occasion, and in appropriate and controlled situations, some people could also be a donor of kidneys, liver and lungs. It is after brain death, that the ‘traditional’ organs of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and tissues can potentially be retrieved for transplantation and research. If a person wishes to be a donor, they are assessed at the time of their death for medical suitability.
What happens after a person is confirmed to be brain dead?
Once death has been confirmed, members of the medical team will speak with the family to determine if their relative had any special wishes regarding organ donation. If the decision is made to grant consent, the Donor Coordinator is invited in to work with the family and the person will remain in Intensive Care attached to the ventilator for a number of hours before being transferred to the operating theatre for the organ retrieval surgery. (Please refer to brain death information).
Do we have a say in which organs are donated?
Yes, absolutely. The Donor Coordinator will discuss the medical suitability of organs and tissues with the family and authorisation would be sought for the retrieval of those organs nominated by the family and next of kin. Only the organs and tissues named on the consent form will be retrieved for transplantation and separate consent is sought for the organs not medically suitable for transplantation to be retrieved for research.
What if a Coronial investigation is required as well?
In many cases brain death will be the result of a sudden accident or injury and may come with the jurisdiction of the Coroner. The Hospital staff will inform the family if the Coroner requires an autopsy. If an autopsy is required, organ and tissue donation may proceed with permission of the Coroner.
How are the organs retrieved?
Removal of organs is no different from any other surgical operation, and is performed by highly skilled surgeons. The donor is treated with respect and dignity at all times.
Is the body disfigured?
Apart from a surgical incision, the donation of organs and tissue does not alter the physical shape of the body. After the organs and tissue are removed and the operation is completed, the donor’s family is able to see their relative again if they wish.
Can funeral arrangements proceed normally?
Yes. The family may make funeral and burial arrangements as they prefer.
Are there any costs involved?
There is no charge to the family for organ donation or any other treatment given after death has been certified. There are no ‘hidden costs’.
What are the religious opinions about organ and tissue donation?
Most major religions support organ and tissue donation as an act of caring and will leave the decision to the individual. If you have any concerns, discuss them with your religious advisor.
Is the family told which organs and tissue were used and to whom they were given?
The donor coordinator writes to the donor’s family with information regarding which organs and tissues were transplanted and how the recipients are progressing. Recipients may write letters of thanks to the donor’s family via the donor coordinator. However in accordance with the law, identifying information cannot be revealed to recipients or donor families.
What support services are available for donor families?
In Australia, families who are approached about donating their deceased relative’s organ and tissues for transplantation are offered follow-up support. Organ and Tissue Donation Agencies provide bereavement aftercare programs in each State and Territory. In NSW the ARCBS NSW/ACT Organ Donation Network is the State Organ and Tissue Donation Agency.
Questions and Answers 2004. LifeLink Organ Donation Network NSW/ACT
Recommendations concerning Brain Death and Organ Donation 2nd Edition 1998.Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society.
Understanding Brian Death and Organ Donation: Living beyond Loss. Australian & New Zealand Organ and Tissue Donation Agencies.
The information contained on this page is general in nature and therefore cannot reflect individual patient variation. In addition it reflects Australian intensive care practice which may differ from other countries. It is meant as a back up to specific information which will be discussed with you by the Doctors and Nurses caring for your loved one. ICCMU attests to the accuracy of the information contained here BUT takes no responsibility for how it may apply to an individual patient. Please refer to the full disclaimer.
Published October 2005