Organ and Tissue Donation in South Africa

About Organ and Tissue Donation – The GIFT of Organ and Tissue Donation SAVES LIVES


Organ donation

For some people, the transplant of a recipient organ to replace their diseased one is their only chance of a fulfilling life. Donations are made to people with damaged organs that need to be replaced.

Tissue donation

Tissues can be used to treat many life-threatening conditions.

There are two types of donation

Living – living donors can give a kidney or part of their liver (which grows back) to a family member.

Deceased – this is when a family donates their brain stem dead family members organs for transplantation to help save up to seven people’s lives and improve up to 50 more.

What can I donate?

You can donate seven organs in South Africa:

      • Heart
      • 2 x Lungs
      • Liver
      • 2x kidneys
      • Pancreas
      • You can also donate your tissue which includes skin, bone, heart valves and your corneas

Other donations you could do:

Blood and platelet donations: contact the SANBS South African National Blood Service to find out more and where the nearest center to you is.

Bone Marrow Donations: contact the Sunflower Fund to find out more and where the nearest center to you is.

Tissue Donation

‘Tissue’ is described as Cornea, Skin, Boneand Tendons, and Heart Valves, and tissue donation is facilitated by a Tissue Bank. Retrieval of tissue can take place at any time between 12 hours and 5 days after death.

Tissue donation makes skin grafts possible for hundreds of critically burned patients every year.

Donated corneas avert or correct blindness.

Donor heart valves help repair cardiac defects or damage.

Bone, cartilage and tendon grafts help restore function and mobility in people who would otherwise be incapacitated or disabled and are used to treat a wide range of medical conditions.

Everyone is a potential donor, and tissue is generally retrieved from people between 15 and 80 years, but cornea and heart valves can also be retrieved from small children.

At the time of loss

Whether sudden or expected, facing the death of a loved one is overwhelming. You are probably experiencing a variety of emotions, ranging from anger and despair to disbelief, shock, and numbness. Along with these emotions, you have many decisions that must be made at a time when you feel you are least prepared to make them.

Although sometimes the decisions that must be made are trivial in comparison to what you are feeling, they are, nevertheless, important.

One such decision is the freedom to decide in favor of organ and tissue donation. In this way, you can ensure that you or your loved one leave a wonderful final legacy of love and hope in helping another.

Donations are allocated based on the severity of the recipient’s illness, time spent on official waiting lists, and the availability of suitable organ and tissue matches.

The need for organ and tissue transplantation is great yet impossible to overcome without people who, despite the pain and absolute finality of death, still find it within themselves to make the decision to help others in need.

The majority of religions support donation as a final act of compassion and generosity, and a means of showing love for another individual.

Please visit the Centre for Tissue Engineering’s website to read their FAQs.

Who can I contact for urgent assistance?

Call 0823184376 Organ Donor Foundation (All hours’ number).

Myth-busting around Organ Donation

More than 4500 people in South Africa are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Many of these people will not have the opportunity to receive an organ from a donor due to a lack of donor referrals. Being an organ donor is giving a generous, selfless gift that can save lives. Many people who are reticent about Organ Donation have been misinformed or heard myths and concerns expressed by others.  If this is the reason you have not registered as an organ donor please refer to the Myth Busters and Frequently Asked Questions below.

Will doctors work hard to save my life if I agree to donate my organs?

Yes, doctors focus on saving your life — not somebody else’s. Organ donation is secondary to saving your life.

Will they make sure I’m dead before they remove my organs?

Two doctors independent of the transplant team give people who have agreed to donate their organs and/or tissue internationally recognized tests to make sure they’re really brain stem dead.

Organ donation is against my religion

Most religions are in agreement with Organ donation. If you are unsure of your faith’s position on donation is, please clarify this with your religious leader or teacher.

Can people under 18 donate their organs?

In South Africa, the next of kin makes the final decision on whether to donate their minor loved one’s organs or not.  If you as a child feel strongly about this tell your parents you want to donate your organs after your death. They can then give their consent knowing that it’s what you wanted. Very often children are also in need of life-saving transplants and will need organs smaller than those an adult can provide.

Will donation leave my body disfigured?

The greatest of care and respect is taken when removing the organs and tissue from the donor body. Specialist healthcare professionals will make sure you are treated with dignity. The body is returned to the family in such a manner that arrangements made for viewing the body after donation are the same as after death.

Can older people donate their organs and/or tissue?

There’s no age limit for the donation of organs or tissue. Healthcare professionals make the decisions to use your organs and/or tissue, based on strict medical criteria, not age. If you make the decision to be on organ donor the doctors will decide when you die whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplants.

Can I donate my organs or tissues if I have a medical condition?

Some conditions may disqualify you from donating now but Medical science is advancing at an alarming rate so it is best to allow the doctors to decide when you die whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplants.

Does it cost me anything to become an organ donor?

No, it does not.  It does not cost you to register as an organ donor NOR does it cost your family/estate anything once the legal documents allowing for organ retrieval have been signed by your next of kin.

Can people buy and sell organs?

No, The transplant law in South Africa forbids selling human organs or tissue. There is no doubt that this does occur in the world we live in but the strict laws in South Africa prohibit this.


Why should you share your decision to become an organ donor?

In South Arica, your next of kin makes the final decision regarding your organ donor referral.

 Knowing your decision makes it easier in a very difficult and emotional time for your family to make a decision and to live with that decision on your donor referral.

 If the medical professionals know that you registered to donate your organs, they will ask your next of kin to support your decision to be a donor. This is helped along if they see a donor sticker on your ID, Passport, Driver’s license, medical aid card, cell phone, etc.

 If you register to be an organ donor without discussing it with your next of kin, it may come as a surprise to them. This may make the decision to follow through on your wishes harder for them to do.

In order to make a REAL DIFFERENCE you, therefore, need to: TALK about your decision, REGISTER with the Organ Donor Foundation and SHARE your decision proudly with all your family and friends.


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