Organ Donation

Here are questions, answers, and information about donating organs.

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Organ Donation

At, we provide the most complete portfolio of services to handle your estate planning needs. We allow you to write your Will, describe your funeral wishes, write messages to loved ones, upload documents to a secure vault, and securely list your assets for your Executor.

We are often asked about organ donation. Where should you specify your preferences for organ donation? What can be donated? Should this information be listed in your Will?

What is organ donation?

As the term suggests, organ donation refers to the process of giving up an organ for the benefit of another who needs it. The donation leads to an organ transplant which can usually save a person's life or make it much better. Many patients require new organs in order to be able to survive their medical condition, so organ donors can make a lot of difference in saving lives. Because of the impact it makes on all parties involved, there are laws regulating the donation of organs, and the act itself requires the consent of all parties concerned.

What are the different types of organ donations?

A person can donate his or her organs under three circumstances, namely:

  1. Brain Stem Death: This is a kind of organ donation done by a person whose brain stem has lost all activity as a result of some brain injury. These people have lost all potential for gaining consciousness as well as their capacity to breathe. This could happen even as a ventilator helps maintain a person's heartbeat and blood circulation.

  2. Circulatory Death: This is when a person's body reaches a point where the heart and lungs have irreversibly lost function, usually from a cardiac arrest. At this point, the patient can no longer be resuscitated. This can also be a result of a planned withdrawal of any life-sustaining measure on a patient currently under the care of an Emergency Department or Intensive Care Unit.

  3. Living Donation: This one is made while the patient is still alive. The donation is usually one of a kidney or a small portion of the liver, although in some cases it could also involve the bone from a hip or knee replacement, or the amniotic membrane (placenta).

Modes of Consent

Much like all donations, the giving away of one's organs requires the consent of the donor, or his or her immediate family members if the former has already passed away. Your express decision to be a donor is important because the law intends to protect you from being forced to donate any of your organs.

At, we provide a number of services that allow you to communicate your wishes to loved ones. We have a section within our MyFuneral™ service, but you can also use our MyMessages™ service to describe your wishes in more detail. By using these services you can ensure that the information gets to the people who need it quickly and in time for them to take action.

Having a medical condition does not automatically mean that you're not fit to donate. Doctors will still verify if some or all your organs can be transplanted. The only exceptions are:

  • HIV
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)
  • Cancer (that has already spread in 12 months)

In these three cases, you're likely to be unable to make any donations at all.

What is tissue donation?

Tissue donation is pretty much like organ donation, except that instead of giving away an entire functioning organ, you opt to give a tissue of a certain part of your body while you're still alive. Much like organ donations, they have to be consented and in accordance with law. Tissue donations can also help save lives. The more contentious difference is that there are some restrictions that apply only to organ donations but not tissue donations.

What organs can I donate?

People have donated a wide selection of organs. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Heart
  • Lung
  • Cornea
  • Pancreas
  • Tissue and bone

Naturally, the organ to be donated will depend greatly on what the patient needs, which in turn depends on the condition they're suffering from.

About Living Donations

As the name suggests, a living donation is one made by a person while he or she is still alive. This means that they can go on with their lives even after donating a specific organ. Living donations often involve a kidney, since people can survive with a single kidney and a human being normally has two. Part of your liver can also be donated through a living donation. As for tissue donations, living donors can give away a portion of their bones and the amniotic membrane.

Why is organ donation so important?

The short answer to this question is that organ donation can save lives. Current statistics show that more than 75,000 patients are waiting for an organ - one that they badly need in order to survive. The sadder reality is that about 1,000 people die having to wait for that much needed organ, meaning many people never really get the organ they waited for who knows how long. Worse, the demand for organs has significantly increased over the years, and it's sad to know that many lives would have been saved if there were enough to go around. In fact, people who are successful recipients of organ transplants often survive and move on to live better lives. The difficulty in donating organs is understandable. However, organs usually must be transplanted immediately, which means transplants are sometimes only possible when the person who is about to die is in the same hospital as the person who needs the organ.

Talking to a Loved One about Donating

Considering that family refusal is one of the bigger obstacles to a successful donation, you're going to want to make sure you can talk to them about it in the best way possible. Here are a couple of things you may want to keep in mind:

  • Take time to do it: Don't mention it as just something you decided to do casually. Taking time to sit down and talk with your loved ones shows how important this decision is to you. By doing so, they'll be able to process it and understand how much the choice to become a donor means to you.
  • Keep a positive vibe: Choosing to be an organ donor can have a negative impression on your loved ones. They could be scared, or may not understand what being a donor means, so it's important to remind them that what you're doing is a good thing and that it's something that can benefit other people. More importantly, it's something that you're proud of. A good way to illustrate this is to talk about how they would feel if they were in the position of a patient who needed an organ transplant, so they could see how good it is to be on the giving end as well.
  • Ask them if they would say yes for you: Although your goal is to convince them to respect your decision to be a donor, you might want to ask for their opinion as well. Making them feel that they're part of the decision-making process can make them more open and more cooperative with your wishes.
  • Share your feelings through social media: If you're not so keen on directly speaking with your loved ones, maybe you can express your personal desires through social media. This is a creative way of starting the conversation in a more personal setting in the near future.
  • Document your wishes using our MyFuneral™ or MyMessages™ service: Using our services and setting up "Keyholders®" ensures that your preferences get to the people who need to know, at the right time. You can do this in addition, or as an alternative, to having a conversation that you may find uncomfortable.

So long as you comply with the requirements of organ donations and get the support of your loved ones, you can be an organ donor in South Africa and get the chance to save the life of another person.


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