What's the Law on Organ & Tissue Donation in Scotland?

On March 26th 2021 the law is changing around organ and tissue donation in Scotland.

What organ donation law is changing?

In Scotland, we're changing to an 'opt-out' system.

This means that if you die in circumstances where you could donate your organs/tissue, it will be assumed that you give your permission 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 it's important that as well as recording your decision about donation on the NHS Organ Donor Register, to have a conversation with your family about your decision.

Can you choose not to donate anything?


Organ and tissue donation is a personal choiceIf you don't want to be a donor, you should opt out on the NHS Organ Donor Register or call the team on 0300 123 23 23.

What if you do want to be an organ donor?

Your name is not automatically added to the NHS Organ Donor Register, so if you want to donate the best thing to do is to register your decision.

By doing this, it will make it easier for your family and help to ensure your donation decision is honoured. You should also tell your family so they know your decision.

Can you choose what organs and tissue to donate?


If you go to the NHS Organ Donor Register you can choose which organs and/or tissue you would like to donate. 

You can also call Organ Donation Scotland on 0300 123 23 23.

If you change your mind...

That's no problem.

You can change your decision on being a donor at any time.

Whether it's what organs and/or tissue you want to donate, or if you want to donate anything at all - all you need to do is update your information on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

You can also call Organ Donation Scotland on 0300 123 23 23.

What about your beliefs or religion? 

If you want to donate you can record whether your faith or beliefs are important on the NHS Organ Donor Register and this will be taken into account as part of the donation discussion with your family.

You can read more about donation and religion on Organ Donation Scotland's website.  

Your family is also entitled to request advice and support from your religious authorities or pastoral carers at any stage of the organ and/or tissue donation discussions and process.

They will also take into consideration your faith, beliefs and practices in respect to your funeral plans too. 

Does the opt-out system cover everyone?


It doesn’t cover:

  • 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

People in these groups can still donate but only if they have opted in on the NHS Organ Donor Register, or if their closest family member agrees to donation when they die.

Can you register to be an organ/tissue donor if you're under 16?


If you're aged 12 or over, you can register your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

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.

What happens if you become a donor?

Only around 1% of people die in circumstances where they can become a donor, which means dying in intensive care.

Doctors will do all they can to try and save your life but sadly that’s sometimes not possible. Only if nothing more can be done, and only once your family has come to terms with this will a sensitive discussion start to take place about donation.

If donation is going to go ahead then certain medical tests or procedures will need to take place to check the health of organs or tissue and to match them to somebody on the transplant waiting list.

You can read more about these medical tests on Organ Donation Scotland's website.

Why is the organ donation law changing?

Lots of people in Scotland need organs and/or tissue that can massively improve their lives or even save it!

Around 500 people each year are waiting on a transplant and quite simply, there are not enough donors to help all of these people, but all of us can do something to help, whatever our age, and whatever our health.

Lots of people might want to be a donor but haven't registered their decision, so by changing to an opt-out system it means that there are more opportunities for organs and tissue to be donated to those that need it. 

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