Questions and answers about organ donation


I am relative of a donor

Each donor can save up to seven lives. We have seven life-saving organs that we give to others: heart, liver (which may be divided), two kidneys, pancreas and two lungs. If the deceased has already informed those closest to them about their thoughts on organ donation, it is simpler to carry out the exact wishes of the deceased.

There are situations when relatives do not know what the deceased thought about organ donation and this can be a difficult decision for relatives to make. Each donor can save seven lives. Saying yes to organ donation does not involve losing something that you need but for many it can be comforting to know that others can live because of organ donation.


I am a relative of a recipient of an organ

To receive a lifesaving organ is to receive the gift of life. Many who receive an organ go from experiencing a life threatening illness to being in almost full health. However, life with a new organ often involves lifelong drug treatment that can cause various side-affects.

The rate of survival after receiving an organ is increasing. Statistics from 2006 show that a 5-year survival rate is 71-85%, for all types of organs.


I am a relative of a patient on the organ donation waiting list

To be on the waiting list for a new organ is not the same as being on the waiting list for an operation. So that organ transplant can be as successful as possible the ‘right’ organ needs to be found for the ‘right’ recipient. This involves taking into account the size of the organ, blood type, and in some cases tissue type.

At any given time, about 400-500 people are on the waiting list for a new organ, in Norway. Most are awaiting a new kidney. The average waiting time varies from organ to organ.


Do the next-of-kin make the decision about donation?

It is your decision on organ donation that applies, according to the law.

If the deceased expressed a positive stand to organ donation, either orally or in writing, a donation can be carried out. The next-of-kin cannot overrule this.

If the next-of-kin doesn’t know of the deceased feelings to organ donation but they do not oppose it, a donation can be carried out. In the possibility that the deceased was opposed to donation, then donation is not carried out, even though the next-of-kin may support it.

Throughout Europe, even in countries with a register, the next-of-kin will be consulted about donation, even in instances where the deceased had expressed a wish to donate. Therefore it is of great importance that you inform those closest to you about your stand on organ donation!


Who is considered to be your next-of-kin/closest?

According to the law, a person´s ‘closest’ is defined as the ones the pasient him-/herself has specified as his/her next-of-kin. If the patient is not able to do this, the next-of-kin are defined as those who the deceased was closest to while alive. If the deceased did not have someone close, then it will be those who have had, to the greatest extent, prolonged contact with the deceased when they were alive, in the following order: spouse, partner, a person that lived in a relationship with the patient, children over 18 years, parents, siblings over 18 years, grandparents, other family members, or guardians.


What happens if the patient doesn’t have relatives?

It is very rare that a deceased person doesn’t have a next-of-kin or someone ‘close’. But in the few cases where this is relevant it may possible to appoint a guardian who could clarify questions regarding donation. However, if the deceased, at anytime, had a positive take on organ donation (by a donor card, colleagues or others), then there is no law that would prevent organ donation.


What will the doctors do if a donor has said yes to organ donation and the next-of-kin has said no

When donation is relevant, health personnel will always ask the next-of-kin if they know the deceased standpoint on donation. If the deceased has expressed a positive standpoint, whether orally or in writing, a donation can be carried out. The next-of-kin cannot overrule this.

If the relatives do not know the deceased’s attitude to donation but do not oppose it, donation may be carried out. In instances where the deceased was negative to it, organ donation would not carried out if the next-of-kin was positive to it.


Can the relatives meet the person who received the donated organs?

No. Both the donor and recipient are entitled to full anonymity. However, the relatives will be able to obtain information on which organs were used and whether or not the transplant was successful, and in some cases find out about the gender and age.

The reason that anonymity is essential is because the relationship between the receiver and the donor families can lead to difficult situations, several examples of which have been reported in other countries. Families may have different motivations: receivers often have a desire to express gratitude and continue their lives, while the donor’s next-of-kin may want to build a life-long relationship with the receipt as consolation for their loss. This can be a huge psychological burden for both parties.

For this reason, Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet and The Norwegian Foundation for Organ Donation recommends that information about the exact time of the transplant or details of donation is not given to relatives of organ donors. Details of the year and season can be provided.


What aftercare do the next-of-kin of the deceased receive after they have given consent for donation?

It is common practice for relatives to receive a letter of thanks for their positive answer to donation on behalf of the deceased. In such a letter, it is standard to include which organs were transplanted and how many lives were saved. No personal information will be given out due to anonymity considerations. Several hospitals also invite relatives to organ donors to a meeting, and in addition meetings are arranged for relatives in the area they live in.