Donation is an altruistic act whereby a person, or their family, expresses the wish that after the moment of death any part of the body which could be apt for transplant be used to help other people.
Apart from transplant from a deceased donor, an ill person can also receive an organ or tissue from a living donor. The vast majority of transplants are from deceased donors, but in certain circumstances an organ (a kidney for example) or part of an organ (part of a liver) can be obtained from a living donor, provided this does not endanger the donor’s life.
Any person is a potential organ donor, provided that while living he/she did not express ideas contrary to donation. Clinical conditions at the moment of death determine whether organs are valid for transplant.
With regards living donation, in accordance with current law, which foresees and regulates this possibility, this is limited to situations where there is a great probability of success in the transplant. In principle any healthy adult can be a donor, as long as they are compatible with the recipient, although we should not forget that this situation implies a certain risk for the donor, as with all interventions. Every person is a potential donor provided they have not expressed contrary views in life.
To be able to donate organs and tissues, the donor must die in a hospital (after irreversible ceasing of cerebral or cardio-respiratory functions, without the possibility of recovery). Only in this way is it possible to maintain the body artificially from the moment of death until the extraction.
When a person considers becoming a donor and decides to donate their organs and tissues to be transplanted so as to help other people, the first thing to be done, and the most important, is to communicate the decision to family and close friends.
They will be the first to be consulted when donation is considered following death, respecting the will of the donor.
You can also fill in a donor card and always carry it together with personal documents as proof of the decision made. This is a card which does not commit you to anything and which can be eliminated at any time if there is a change of opinion.
When everything possible has been done, every possible measure has been taken to save the person’s life and the doctors not related to the donation process have confirmed the irreversible character of the process, death is certified according to the medical and legal criteria established for these cases.
Once death is certified, the transplant medical team evaluates which organs and tissues could be used to improve health or cure other people.
If donation is possible the hospital transplant coordinators will check the will expressed in life by the donor using all the measures at their disposal, but, principally, they will consult the family.
There is no difference in relation to other hospital deaths.
The extraction of organs and tissues, which is carried out under sterile conditions and in an appropriate operating theatre, is an operation performed by a team of qualified doctors and nurses. The body is not disfigured and is always treated with absolute respect.
Part of the liver or a kidney proceeding from a living donor can be transplanted. In certain countries, basically for cultural reasons, or due to a lack of deceased donor organs, the majority of transplants are performed using living organ donors.
On the other hand, some tissue transplants can also come from a living donor, such as the transplant of bone marrow, amniotic membrane and cell cultures, and also the transplant of hematopoyetic progenitor cells (stem cells from blood cells) is performed from a living donor.
The most just and fair way of distributing the organs obtained is to follow the order of the waiting list, so that when an organ becomes available it is allocated to the patient occupying the first place, or the one who most urgently needs a transplant.
On the other hand, organs extracted alter death cannot be preserved indefinitely and must be transplanted within a few hours. Therefore, they cannot be donated to a specific person in the case of deceased donation. Only in the case of a living donor organ transplant can it be allocated to a specific person, generally a close family member (father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister) or a friend.
In principle there is no age limit to becoming a donor, provided you are an adult.
In fact, during recent years there is confirmation of an increased average age for donors .
The intention is to allocate the most suitable organ to each patient, according to their clinical situation and general condition. The medical team evaluates each case, seeking the presence of health problems (certain infections, cancer, excessive ageing of the organs etc.) which could invalidate an organ or tissue for transplant.
The donation of the whole body is an option only possible if you are not at the same time an organ and tissue donor. The study of the body could provide new knowledge about illnesses and is very useful in the training of health, but it is incompatible with the simultaneous donation of other parts of the body.
If a person wishes to donate their body to science they should contact the medical faculties or research centres in this area.
Transplant consists in substituting a deteriorated organ or tissue for one/some which functions correctly. It is a treatment which improves the conditions and quality of life of certain people and which for others represents the only hope of curing their illness and, therefore, of preserving an acceptable quality of life.
Transplant is a very complex medical treatment and the only one which needs the solidarity of other people to be carried away.
These transplants are indicated for a wide range of illnesses or malfunctions which, although in some cases do not put the patient’s life at risk, significantly reduce the quality of life.
Apart from solid organs (kidneys, liver, heart, lung, pancreas and intestine), it is also possible to transplant tissues such as bones, skin, cardiac valves , blood vessels, corneas, amniotic membrane, cell cultures or bone marrow.
All ill people with renal insufficiency undergoing dialysis three times a week to survive, people suffering from certain incurable heart, liver or lung diseases with short life expectancy, people suffering from non-controllable diabetes which could lead to blindness or renal insufficiency, people who are blind for different reasons and also those who, as a result of the illness they suffer from, require replacement of some type of tissue.
A lot of people can benefit from a transplant.