Deceased donation is the process of giving one's organs and/or tissue at the time of death for the purpose of transplantation to another person. Donation can also be for the purposes of research or medical education.
Individuals on the transplant waitlist are suffering from organ failure and without the generous gift of life from an organ donor, many will die. Tissue donors save the lives of recovering burn victims, and enhance the lives of other to help restore sight, and allow people to walk again. Transplants not only save lives, but they also return recipients to full, productive lives.
Because only a very small percentage of deaths can actually result in a transplant, the more people who register to donate, the greater the chances one of the nearly 1,400 people on the waitlist will receive a lifesaving or enhancing transplant before it is too late.
Even if a person has registered as an organ and tissue donor, deceased donation is a rare occurrence. For someone to become a deceased organ donor, they must die under specific circumstances. Only about 1–2% of deaths in hospital occur in such a way to allow for donation, which limits the opportunities for deceased organ donation. This is why we need as many people registered as possible.
In Ontario, those willing to become deceased organ and tissue donors should register their decision online or through ServiceOntario. At the time of death, your family or next of kin will be consulted regarding your wishes to become an organ and tissue donor. It is important to have a conversation with your family, so they are confident when asked about your organ and tissue donation wishes.
Transplantation is always prioritized, but when organs or tissue are not suitable for transplant, they can be used for research specific to the field of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. When you consent to organ and tissue donation for transplantation, consent for research is optional. You can opt out of research by not checking the research box when registering, or you can opt in by ensuring the research box is selected and a checkmark appears.
No. Body donation means that your whole body is donated to a School of Anatomy for educational and research purposes. Donating your body to science is different from donating organs and tissues to a living person. For more information, visit the Ontario website.
Organs and tissue that can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, small intestines, eyes, heart valves, tendons, bone and ligaments, and skin (paper-thin layer from the back of the body). You also have the option to exclude specific organs and tissues from being donated when you register.
Everyone is a potential donor regardless of age or medical condition. Even individuals with serious illnesses can sometimes be donors. Your decision to register should not be based on whether you think you would be eligible or not. All potential donors are evaluated on an individual, medical, case-by-case basis.
Eligibility to donate is assessed at the time of death through organ testing, as well as information obtained during a medical and social questionnaire completed with families.
Almost all religions support gestures that save or preserve the lives of others, and donors have come from all different religions. Religious restrictions may not include organ and tissue donation if the donation could save a life. Specialized health professionals in donation can work with your family to honour religious practices as donation moves forward. Please consult your religious leader if you are uncertain. More information about the role culture and religion play in organ and tissue donation can be found on the Trillium Gift of Life Network website.
Ontario Health (TGLN) coordinates organ and tissue donation and transplantation for the province. Though everyone has the potential to become a donor, the chance for donation is rare as death usually must occur within an ICU setting in a hospital. Only 1-2% of hospital deaths occur this way, making you six times more likely to require an organ transplant in your lifetime than to have the opportunity to donate one.
When a person experiences a significant medical event (like a stroke or severe head injury) leading to “brain death” or “cardiac death.” and all life-saving treatments are exhausted or are prolonging a person’s life without improving the underlying condition, the health care team and family may make a consensual decision to stop treatment. At this time, the following will happen:
- The Ministry of Health database is checked to see if the patient has registered as a donor.
- If the person is registered, this information is shared with the family, who are asked to reaffirm the patient’s decision. Once consent is given by the family or next-of-kin, medical tests and a medical and social history questionnaire is completed with the family to determine what organs and tissues may be suitable for transplant.
- Once the assessments are complete and the medical teams and resources are available, the organs are matched with someone on the transplant waitlist and the recovery surgery takes place in an operating room at the hospital.
- The entire donation process, from the time the family is approached about donation to recovery of donated organs, can take 24 to 96 hours to complete.
- Once the donation and transplantation are complete, arrangements for funeral and memorial preparation and services can be made.
- Recipients are followed closely by their medical team to ensure the health of the patient and their newly transplanted organ.
- At the end of the donation journey, donor families and recipients can communicate anonymously through the Donor Family Team at Ontario Health (TGLN).
In most cases, the family will honour their loved one’s decision, which is why it is important both to register your decision and speak with your family about your end-of-life wishes. When you register to become a donor, your registration is stored in a Ministry of Health database that will only be accessed if there is a potential for donation when you pass. At that time, your status as a registered donor will be shared with your family.
There are no costs to the donor’s family for organ and tissue donation. Expenses related to funeral arrangements remain the responsibility of the donor’s family.
The body is released and funeral arrangements can continue as planned.
Open casket funeral and cremation are both still possible. Organ and tissue donation does not impact funeral plans.
- Organ recovery from the abdomen or chest usually involves one surgical incision that clothing would cover
- When corneas are donated, the whole globe of the eye is typically removed. Funeral homes provide eye caps to maintain the shape and form of the eyes when they are closed
- The appearance of the skin after recovery is similar to that of sunburn. A paper-thin layer of skin is removed from the back of the body permitting an open casket funeral
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If you have a question not listed above, please email infoLine@ontariohealth.ca.
Take 2 minutes to register. It could save a life.
Provide your basic information including date of birth and health card number. You must be at least 16 years old.
Register your consent or check your registration status with the province of Ontario on the ServiceOntario site.