Your Questions About Organ & Tissue Donation, Answered

You may have heard the law is changing around organ and tissue donation in Scotland. Here are some frequently asked questions that may answer any questions you have about organ and tissue donation.

What organ donation law is changing?

The law is changing to an opt-out system for organ and tissue donation in Scotland on 26th of March 2021.

This means that it will be assumed that you give your permission for your organs and/or tissue to be donated unless you choose to opt out of donation.

Your family will always be consulted about this to make sure that donation doesn't happen if you would not have wanted it to. So
, as well as recording your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register, it's important to have a conversation with your family about your decision.

How will the organ and tissue donation law change impact young people in Scotland?

Under the new opt out system, if you are 16 or over and you die in circumstances in which you can donate your organs/tissue, it will be assumed that you give your permission for your organs and/or tissue to be donated unless you choose to opt out of donation.

What is the pre-existing law and the difference?

The pre-existing law followed an opt-in system.

Donation could only go ahead if the donor had opted in, or, if they hadn’t opted in then their family agreed to the donation. Under the opt out system the assumption is that you are willing to donate unless you opt out. Everyone is still encouraged to make a decision about donation, record it on the NHS Organ Donor Register and to tell their family and friends about it.

How do you register not to be a donor?

You can opt-out of being a donor by visiting the Organ Donation Scotland website and filling out a quick online form under the 'register your decision' option.

If you do not have access to the internet you can register your decision by calling Organ Donation Scotland on 0300 303 2094.

Who will know my decision on being an organ donor?

When you register your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register it is not shared with anybody elseIf you die in circumstances where you can become a donor then the register will be checked and if you recorded a decision it will be shared with your loved ones.

You should have a conversation with your loved ones about your decision and notify them of any decision you make about donation. This is to make sure that your decision is honoured after you die.

Find out more about talking to your family about organ and tissue donation.

Can you opt-out, or register to be a donor, if you're under 16?

You can register your decision from 12 years old.

You can’t register if you're under the age of 12.  If someone aged under 12 dies in circumstances where they could donate then their parent, carer or legal guardian would be asked if they agree to donation.

Find out more about what the law is on organ donation in Scotland.

Can you prevent your family or loved ones from overriding your decision?

If you die in circumstances in which you can donate then your family are expected to support your decision after you die.

That’s why it’s so important that as well as recording your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register, you discuss it with your family so that they know what you want to happen. 

Find out more about talking to your family about organ and tissue donation.

Why do I need to have a conversation?

If you die in circumstances where organ and tissue donation may be a possibility, the NHS Organ Donor Register will be checked to see if you had recorded a decision.  Doctors and nurses caring for you will discuss donation with your family and check what your latest decision was.

Keeping your family and loved ones up to date with your latest views will make it easier for your friends and family to ensure your decision is honoured.

Find out more about talking to your family about organ and tissue donation.

Will the change in law actually work?

Wales implemented a similar opt-out system in 2015.

In 2019, a report was released where it was found that Wales has the highest consent rate of all the UK nations.

Is your decision permanent?

No.

You can change your mind about donation as many times as you wish before you die.

There is no limit to how many times you can opt-in or opt-out of organ and tissue donation.

What if you have already opted in?

If you have already opted-in then your decision will still stand, unless you change your mind and register your latest decision.

What if the person can’t make decisions for themselves?

Most people are able to make a decision about whether or not they want to be a donor after they die and there are easy read materials available to help explain the new law that can be downloaded from Organ Donation Scotland's website.

There are protections in the opt out system which means that it doesn’t apply to certain groups of people:

  • Anyone under the age of 16
  • Anyone aged 16+ who is unable to understand the opt out system, for example due to a learning disability
  • Anyone aged 16+ who has lived in Scotland for less than 12 months before their death

If a person in one of the groups above dies in a way that means they could donate, and they haven’t already recorded a decision, then their closest family member will be asked whether they wish to authorise donation.

Could they potentially take every organ and tissue? 

Only 1% of people die in the rare circumstances that make donation possible and there is an even smaller chance that all potential organs and tissue are suitable for donation.

You can choose what organs and/or tissue you wish to donate on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

How does this affect getting people's ashes?

Organ and tissue donation should not delay the funeral process or the process of getting a loved ones ashes after they die.

How has COVID-19 impacted organ donation?

All potential donors are tested for COVID-19.  People who die with coronavirus unfortunately cannot become a potential donor.

Are you alive when you donate organs?

No.  Organs/tissue would only be removed after death has been confirmed

There is such a thing as ‘living donation’ though.  For example, where someone can donate one of their kidney’s when they are alive to a family member, a friend or to someone that they don’t know, but that is completely separate to the opt-out system.

For more information about what you can donate when you are alive, visit the Organ Donation Scotland website.

Can you donate to science rather than to someone else?

There are other organisations that you have to register your decision with before you die if you wish your body to be donated to science.

For more information visit the guidance on body donation in Scotland section on the Scottish Government website.

Visit Young Scot's Organ & Tissue Donation information pages.