Frequently Asked Questions

Would I be a suitable donor?

Many organs and tissues can be donated, including the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, small bowel, corneas, heart valves, bone and skin. Ultimately, the ability to become and organ and tissue donor depends on several factors, including the health of the organs and tissue at the time of transplant. There are no strict age limits because the donor’s health is more important than age alone. After death, if your next of kin consents to donation, then medical tests will be done to determine if your organs are suitable for transplant.

How do I make my wishes known?

In Ontario, you can register to become a donor, but be sure to talk to your family. It’s critical to share your decision with them, as they will be asked for final consent to donate your organs and tissues after your death. 

More information can be obtained by contacting the provincial organization Trillium Gift of Life Network via telephone at 1-800-263-2833 or visiting the Gift of Life website.

When does donation become an option?

Living donation may be an option for healthy adults who have a family member or close friend in need of a kidney or liver transplant. After donating, the living kidney donor can lead a healthy, active life with the remaining kidney. For the living liver donor, the remaining liver segment will grow back to its normal size within a few months, and the donor resumes his or her usual lifestyle.

Many people think about donating their organs and tissues following their death. Deceased organ donation takes place after someone has been declared brain dead, and a doctor has determined the organs are suitable for transplant. This is referred to as donation after brain death. To be an organ donor, you must die in a hospital with your body supported by a ventilator. With a ventilator, oxygen is circulated in the blood so organs can be used for transplant. For this reason, less than two per cent of all hospital deaths are suitable potential donors.

Another option is donation after circulatory death (DCD). DCD offers some families the option to donate when brain death criteria have not been met, and the decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment has been made. DCD patients have no hope of recovering, and they will die within minutes or hours after being disconnected from life support. In some cases, once their heart stops beating, they have been able to donate their liver, lungs, heart and kidneys for transplant.

Tissue donation can take place after someone has died, as long as a doctor has determined that the tissue is suitable for transplant. For organ donation, you must die in a hospital. For tissue donation, you can die at home or in the community and still donate because there is no need for blood flow to be maintained by artificial ventilation after death. So, almost everyone can donate tissues within certain time limits after death. Tissue donors can be referred from chronic care facilities, emergency departments, any patient floor in a hospital, and even from funeral homes.

If I’ve indicated that I want to be a donor, will every effort be made to save my life?

Yes! Doctors who care for seriously injured patients are not involved with the transplant process. Their only concern is to save you. Transplant doctors only become involved after all attempts to save your life have failed, and death has been declared.

What happens to my body after the organs or tissues are removed?

Organ retrieval is a surgical procedure carried out in an operating room. Donation will not interfere with funeral arrangements, and an open casket is possible. Normally, the funeral will not be delayed as a result of the donation.

What are the costs of donation?

In Ontario, organ retrieval is covered by the health-care system. There is no cost to the donor's family for this surgical procedure. The family, however, is still responsible for funeral arrangements.

Is donation confidential?

Provincial legislation, the Trillium Gift of Life Network Act, guarantees confidentiality of the donor and the donor's family. Unless the family gives permission for information to be released, or it is legally required, only the immediate family will know about the donation.

What happens if I donate my body to a medical school?

Arrangements for whole body donation can be made through your nearest medical school. If the medical school accepts the whole body, only the eyes can be removed for transplantation. 

If you live in the London area, you can contact Western University, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology for information about their regulations and any forms that need to be completed by calling 519-661-3014 or by visiting the Body Bequeathal Program. You can also contact the Office of the Chief Coroner via telephone at 877-991-9959.

Can I donate my eyes if I wear glasses?

Yes. Even totally blind people can donate their eyes because poor eyesight does not prohibit eye donation. Only the cornea (clear, front part of the eye) is used for corneal transplantation. The sclera (white part of the eye) can be used for research (if you wish) to aid in future treatment of eye diseases. Each month, more than 200 eyes are donated to the Eye Bank of Canada. Unfortunately, many patients have to continue waiting because there is not enough donated tissue.

I want to donate, but I think this decision conflicts with my religion.

Most major religions support organ and tissue donation as an expression of compassion and generosity in helping others. Consult with your faith leader; restrictions may not apply if the donation could save another’s life.

For a review of some of the major religious beliefs, read The importance of culture and religion on the Gift of Life website.

How are organs distributed when there are so many patients waiting?

The Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN) operates a call centre 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ontario hospitals contact TGLN when a patient dies. When a phone call is received, TGLN helps determine if a potential donor is suitable for organ and/or tissue donation. If the patient is a suitable tissue donor, the tissues are removed and delivered to tissue banks. When organs are donated, the provincial waiting list database is checked to select the most suitable recipient based on blood type, size of organ, medical urgency and so on. Organs are generally allocated to the sickest patient who is a compatible match and has been waiting the longest.

Do transplants really work?

Generally, transplantation success rates are excellent – between 80-95 per cent of patients are doing well one year after their transplant. Overall, transplant recipients enjoy an excellent quality of life, and are able to work, attend school, travel, and play sports. They are encouraged to engage in all activities that anyone would participate in. Every donor can help save or improve the lives of several people.