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Myths

Some people are put off becoming an organ donor because they believe there’s a compelling reason why they can’t add their name to the NHS Organ Donor Register. Here’s the truth behind myths surrounding organ donation.

I’m too old to be an organ donor, you wouldn’t want my organs

For organs, the deciding factor is the donor's physical condition rather than their age. You might be surprised that organs and tissue from people in their 70s and early 80s are often transplanted successfully. Anyone up to 85 years old could be a potential organ donor when they die.  In every case, if you join the NHS Organ Donor Register, there are specialist healthcare professionals who decide which organs and tissue are suitable - so don't let your age or health stop you from registering.

You need to be 18 to join the NHS Organ Donor Register

This definitely isn’t the case. Parents and guardians can register their children, and in Scotland children aged 12 and above can register on the NHS Organ Donor Register and a parent or guardian doesn’t have the legal right to overrule their wishes.

Doctors won’t save me if I’m an organ donor

If you are ill, your doctor’s number one priority will be to give you the best possible care and save your life. If you die and you (or your family) have agreed to organ donation, to make sure everything is impartial, a completely different team of specialists is called in.

Organ donation will hurt

Organ donation generally takes place after someone has died, so it can't hurt. In some cases you can however choose to donate an organ such as a kidney, while you are still alive – but this would be done under general anaesthetic.

What if I’m not really dead?

For deceased donors, death is confirmed in exactly the same way for people who donate organs as for those who don’t. Death has to be confirmed by a doctor who is entirely independent of the transplant team. Most organ donors are patients who have died as a result of a severe head injury, stroke or brain haemorrhage and are on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit. In these circumstances, death is diagnosed by brain stem death tests carried out by two experienced doctors and there are clear and very strict standards and procedures. In some other cases, people in hospital critical care units can donate organs after circulatory death; this means that their heart has stopped beating and they stop breathing. In these cases, doctors always wait until five minutes after their heart has stopped beating before death is confirmed.

I’m not in the best of health, you couldn’t use my organs

Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. It may turn out that certain organs aren’t suitable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues are fine. Again, why not register and let the medical professionals decide.

I can’t donate blood so I can’t be an organ donor

This isn’t true. The criteria for donating blood are different to organ donation. Everyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Organ donation will leave my body disfigured

Organs are always removed with the greatest care and respect. It takes place in a normal operating theatre and is carried out by specialist healthcare professionals who make sure the donor is treated with dignity. Afterwards, the surgical incision is carefully closed and covered, and arrangements for viewing the body after donation are the same as after any death.

Organs are sometimes bought and sold

This is absolutely not true. The transplant laws in the UK absolutely prohibit the sale of human organs or tissue.