FAQ about organ donation in SA


Organ transplants are now so successful that many lives can be saved this way. Every day more critically ill patients are added to the waiting list. Unfortunately, this is happening faster than organs are available. As a result, many patients, who could have lived if they had had a transplant, die each year.

Many more of us need to say: “Yes, when I die, a waiting patient can have my organ for transplantation. After all, once we die we do not need our organs anymore, so why burn or bury something that could give life to others? One donor can save the lives of several others and restore the sight of two more people.”

This section tells you how you can make sure that someday you become a lifesaver, an organ donor, leaving the wonderful legacy of life for others once you've gone.

How do I become a potential organ donor?
Just two easy steps:

  • Phone the Organ Donor Info Line on 0800 22 66 11 and you'll be helped.
  • Talk to your family. Inform them of your intent to become an organ donor.

What can be transplanted?
Kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, corneas, bone, bone marrow and skin. As techniques improve, it may in future be possible to transplant other parts of the body.

Can you donate an organ while still alive?
Yes, in some cases. Live donations – such as a kidney – are nearly always between close relatives, such as a parent to a child, or brother to brother, because the blood groups and tissue types must be compatible to give a high success rate.

Who can be an organ donor?
Anyone under the age of 70 who is in good health, in other words anybody with no sign of cancer, diabetes, hepatitis B or infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids. Anyone younger than 18 years will require parental permission.

What if I want to be a donor but my family objects?
Explain to your family that you want your wish to be honoured. By doing this at a time where there is no trauma, critical time is saved.

If there is written evidence of your wish - such as your Donor Card - most people have to accept that, after death, your wishes should be respected. Discussing your wish to become an organ donor in time will make it easier for your family to reach a decision when a doctor or transplant coordinator approaches them in a time of tragedy.

Does organ donation leave the body disfigured?
No. The recovery of organs and tissue is carried out by surgeons and trained staff. They do this with great care and don't disfigure the body. All that can be seen are very neatly stitched surgical incisions – the same as after any operation.

How do doctors know that you're really dead?
Two doctors have to carry out a series of tests independently in order to confirm that a patient is brain dead. Brain-stem death usually results because of a severe brain injury that causes all brain activity to stop. It can be caused by a major road accident, a gunshot wound, a stab wound or a fatal stroke.

Can doctors keep you alive with machines?
A patient who is brain dead cannot recover. Machines can merely keep the blood circulating after death. This is done to get blood to organs in order to use them for transplantation.

Would a transplant patient ever know who the donor was?
No, confidentiality is always maintained except in the case of living donors where transplants are usually done within the same family.

Does being a donor cause delays to funeral arrangements?
No. Everything has to be done very quickly to improve the chances of success. The entire procedure should be completed within twelve hours.

Does the family pay for the cost of donation?
No. The hospital or the state will cover all expenses of hospitalisation, medication and removal of organs.

Can people buy or sell organs?
No. Organ donation in South Africa is seen as a "Gift of Life". Trading in organs is illegal worldwide.

Can I change my mind?
Yes. Just tear up your Donor Card, and inform your family that you no longer wish to be an organ donor.

- (Health24, updated December 2008)

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