Organ donation

Views on organ donation: living donors

The living donors we interviewed were healthy people who chose to donate a kidney to help a seriously ill person have a better quality of life. Sometimes, this had been a family member or friend, but some living donors had donated to an anonymous recipient waiting on the transplant waiting list. Based on their own positive experiences, they advised other people to think about living donation and registering for organ donation. Many of those we interviewed stressed that donating a kidney had had no negative impacts on their own health and had had many significant benefits for the recipient. The donor continued with life as before, with no changes to diet or lifestyle, but the recipient was also now able to enjoy life again. Their family and friends had also benefitted. Donors said they’d also gained enormously from the experience, benefits they had not expected (see Feelings after donating a kidney’).
All operations carry some risk and this is no different for living donation. Donors are at risk of infections (e.g. chest, wound or urine) and, more rarely, bleeding or blood clots. There is a very small risk of death for the donor, and it is estimated at 1 in 3000 for this operation (NHS Blood and Transplant 2015).
 
Donating a kidney does not mean that the donor’s health might not be affected in some way in the future. It is always possible that something unexpected could happen to the remaining kidney. As the health of all donors is thoroughly assessed before donating, the chances of this are very small, especially if the donor has a generally healthy lifestyle after donation. In the unlikely event that a problem occurs with the remaining kidney, dialysis treatment may be needed earlier than if the person had both kidneys.   
 
Donors stressed the benefits of kidney donation to patients on dialysis. Donating a kidney enabled a patient to have the possibility of a new and healthy life. Several stressed that the assessment and tests before anyone is allowed to donate are very thorough and anyone unsuitable would be rejected. They noted that, although having surgery and donating a kidney is ‘a big deal’, the process was so straightforward that, in many ways, it had felt ‘easy’ given the enormity of the benefits. Several said that the success rate for living donation was excellent and medical advances had made having surgery relatively straightforward. Some also talked about the shortage of organs and how living donation and organ donation could help tackle the problem.  
Several people had such a positive experience that they said that, had they had another kidney to donate, they would do the same again. Margo said she talked to her doctor about the possibility of donating part of her liver to help someone with liver problems.
One donor can save the life of several people, restore the sight of two others and improve the quality of life of many more. The donors we interviewed encouraged others to think about organ donation and to talk to their family about their views.
Some of the people we spoke to said that all the major religions were in favour of helping others and organ donation was one important way of doing this.
 
Harmanjit, a British Asian donor, urged others from South Asian backgrounds to think about organ donation and living donation. People from South Asian, African and African-Caribbean communities in the UK are more likely to need a kidney transplant than the rest of the population. Unfortunately, while the need for donor organs is three to four times higher than among the general population, donation rates are relatively low among Black and South Asian communities, thus reducing the chance of a successful match being found. Therefore, not only are members of these communities at higher risk of kidney failure, it is also harder to find a suitable donor and waiting lists are growing (see What is organ donation?).
Some of the people we interviewed said they felt lucky to be able to donate a kidney to help another person and that registering for organ donation could save many more lives.
The donors we interviewed were keen to raise awareness of living donation and organ donation. One woman said she told as many people about it as she could. Others had taken part in newspaper and television interviews in which they talked about their experience. Several felt it was important for children to be taught about these subjects at school.
A few people felt that living donation might be of particular interest to people who had no dependents and did not work in dangerous occupations. Several recommended researching living donation on the internet to find out more about it.
 
Some of the people we interviewed praised the organ donation system in Spain, a very successful system, because many people there consented to organ donation on the death of a relative. Some donors also discussed having a presumed consent organ donation scheme, where organs are taken unless the donor has specifically opted out in writing. They felt this could increase donation rates, and research suggests it could do by up to 25 per cent. In the current ‘opt-in’ system of organ donation in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland individuals are asked to register their willingness to be a donor after their death.
 
Some of the living donors we talked to were in favour of presumed consent as they felt it would mean more organs would be available and more lives could be saved. Others, though, felt that education and more training for doctors and nurses would help raise awareness of organ donation and help increase donation rates.
We did not come across any adults who’d had difficult experiences of living kidney donation. If you are over 18 and would be interested in sharing your experiences for this website please email info@healthtalk.org.

Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.

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