How do laws regarding organ donation apply upon a person's death?


Less than 3,000 organ transplants are carried out each year in the UK, whereas more than 9,000 people in the UK are waiting for an organ transplant that could save or dramatically improve their lives. The UK currently has an ‘opt-in’ system of organ donation, which means that your organs or tissues will only be donated if that is your wish.

There are several ways by which you can indicate whether you wish to donate your organs or tissues. These are:

  • Tell a relative or close friend
  • Carry an organ donor card
  • Record your wishes on the NHS Organ Donor Register

Putting your name on the NHS Organ Donor Register makes it much easier for medical practitioners to establish your wishes and for those closest to you in life to follow them. If your wishes are not clear, the person closest to you will be asked what they think you would have wanted. For this reason, it is important to think ahead and make sure that person is aware of your views on organ donation.

The NHS Organ Donor Register is a confidential database holding the wishes of more than 16 million people in the UK who wish to donate. The register is used to help establish whether a person wanted to donate and, if so, what. Putting your name on the Register makes everyone aware of your wishes and makes it easier for them to agree to your donation.

If the family or closest person objects to the donation when the person who has died has given their explicit permission by one of the above-mentioned methods, healthcare professionals will discuss the matter with them. They do not have the legal right to veto or overrule the wishes of the deceased person and will therefore be encouraged to accept their wishes. Nevertheless, there may be circumstances in which it would be inappropriate for the donation to go ahead and doctors can decide not to proceed when faced with such opposition.

There is much talk recently of changing the UK system to an ‘opt-out’ system. Such suggestions aim to address the shortage of organ and tissue donations. In an opt-out system, consent to donate is presumed unless a person formally states otherwise. Many European countries have a form of ‘presumed consent’ or ‘opt out’ system.

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