Back to Top FAQ - The Ottawa Hospital


How many people are on a waiting list for an organ or tissue transplant?

At any one time, more than 4,000 people are on waiting lists for transplant operations that could enhance or save their lives. Each year, growing numbers of men, women and children die waiting for a transplant because there is a critical shortage of organs and tissues available.

Why is the waiting list for donated organs and tissues so long?

One critical reason is that the wishes of the potential organ donor are not known by the family. This is crucial because it is the family who makes the final decision regarding donation. While many support donation, a recent survey by the Mutual Group identified that less the 50% of Canadians are aware of their family member’s wishes regarding donation of organs and tissues. In some provinces a printout of your wishes from the donor registry would be available; however in other regions, where the hospital does not initiate or follow up discussion with the family regarding organ and tissue donation, donation may not occur.

How can I become an organ or tissue donor?

The decision to become an organ and tissue donor is a very personal one. It is extremely important that you discuss your wishes with your family, as this will enable them to carry out your wishes. They have to know what you want to do if they are ever asked about donation of organs and tissues. You then make a decision and sign your health card, driver’s license or registry card.

What organs can be donated?

Every organ donor can help save or improve the lives of many people. The organs which can be donated are the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and bowel. Organs cannot be stored and must be transplanted as soon as possible.

Can everyone who dies be an organ donor?

To be an organ donor you must die from brain death. Brain death occurs in only 1 – 2 percent of all deaths. Even with every donor being identified and all families consenting to donation, a shortage or organs may still exist. For this reason, research is underway to develop other means of meeting the need, such as the development of artificial organs.

What exactly is brain death?

A person who becomes an organ donor invariably dies following a severe brain injury. Brain damage is so extensive that the brain dies as a result of insufficient blood and oxygen. Once brain death occurs, the body will die. With the artificial support of medicine and the respirator, the organs may function for a short time. Once brain death occurs, organ donation may proceed with the consent of the donor’s family. Since organs cannot be stored, transplantation is an emergency procedure. The family may remain with the donor while a search for a recipient is completed. Family members are supported throughout this difficult process.

Is every effort made to save a potential donor’s life?

Yes. Each person receiving medical treatment is given the best medical care regardless of whether they may be a potential organ or tissue donor. It is only after all efforts to resuscitate a person fail, that organ donation is even considered.

What is the success rate for organ transplants?

It varies depending on the organ, but in general, between 80 – 85% of recipients are doing great one year after transplant.

Who can donate tissues and what tissues can be donated?

Tissue donation is possible with almost any kind of death. Major infections and a history of cancer are the two most common reasons why donation cannot occur. Tissue transplantation enhances lives by restoring function, promoting healing and providing vision. The tissues which can be donated are eyes, bone, skin, heart valves and veins. Tissues may be stored for days or even months.

Can someone who was killed at the scene of an accident still be a donor?

If you die at the scene of an accident or at home, you cannot donate. The vital organs will have stopped functioning without the assistance of drugs and a respirator. However, you can donate important tissues such as eyes, heart valves, bones and veins.

Can I designate only specific or tissues for donation?

Yes. Make your wishes known to your family who will consent for you. Specify your wishes on your registry or donor card.

Is there an age limit for organ and tissue donation?

No. Everyone should consider themselves a potential organ or tissue donor, regardless of their age. It is the health of the individual, not the age, which is the deciding factor.

When does the donation process begin?

The process begins in the hospital after the person has been declared brain dead and the family has given permission for organ or tissue recovery to proceed. The time for the process is usually 24 hours.

Does testing for viruses and infectious diseases take place before organs and tissues are transplanted?

Yes. All organs and tissues being considered for transplant must undergo rigorous testing. This testing includes blood tests, a medical and social history and a physical examination. The reason that we have a test is to give the recipient the safest organs and tissues possible and to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Sometimes, even though the results of these tests are negative, the person can still have had some recent contact with the disease that is not yet showing up in his or her blood. Therefore, we also need to ask the family questions about personal and private activities such as lifestyle situations that are associated with the spread of these diseases.

Do most religions support organ and tissue and tissue donation?

All major religions consider organ and tissue donation as a gift of life to another person. If you have any questions you should consult your spiritual advisor.

Is the body disfigured after organ and tissue donation?

No. The organ and tissue recovery is carried out like any other surgical procedure and the donor is treated with utmost respect and dignity. Funeral arrangements need not to be changed and if the family so chooses, an open casket is still possible.

If an individual becomes a donor, does that donation remain confidential?

Legislation in many provinces ensures complete confidentiality for the donor. In Ontario this legislation is the Trillium Gift of Life Act. Unless the family gives permission for that information to be released, only the immediate family need know about the donation.

Can someone buy or sell organs or tissues in Canada?

The buying and selling of organs is illegal in Canada. Canada’s Human Tissue Gift Act prohibits the sale of organs or tissues for profit.

What are the costs of donation?

In Canada, organ and tissue recovery is covered by the health-care system. There are no extra costs to the family for medical procedures related to organ and tissue donation. The family pays for the funeral arrangements of their choice, as with any death.

Last updated on: December 5th, 2016