19 Oct 2022

Myths about organ donation

Becoming an organ donor can be a hugely rewarding way to make a difference to someone’s life, but it’s understandable if you, or someone close to you, have doubts about whether you should donate organs. In this guide we’ll look at different myths about organ donation to provide the reassurance you or a loved one needs, so you can decide whether or not to become a registered organ donor.

Myths about organ donation

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Are there any reasons why you shouldn’t be an organ donor?

Everyone has their own personal reasons as to why they may or may not wish to become an organ donor. But as far as the facts are concerned, who can and cannot donate organs? According to the NHS, there are a few health reasons that could preclude you from becoming an organ donor, such as:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) – a rare condition that affects the brain.
  • Ebola virus disease – a serious viral infection.
  • Cancer, where active cancerous cells are destroying healthy tissue.
  • An HIV diagnosis. However, in rare circumstances, people with HIV can donate organs, so it’s worth getting medical advice if you’re living with HIV and would like to become a donor.

But aside from these medical reasons why some people shouldn’t be an organ donor, there are no scientific reasons as to why someone shouldn’t donate, though they are of course free to make their own decision.

Myths and misconceptions about organ donation

If you’re sitting down and having a conversation with a loved one, it can sometimes be difficult to separate the organ donation facts from fiction. That’s why we’ve listed some common myths about organ donation below.

Myth #1: Organs are removed while a person is alive

Unless we’re talking about living donors, such as those who donate a kidney while alive, the truth is that organs are never donated until the patient’s death has been confirmed. In medical terms, this means ‘brain stem death’ or ‘circulatory death’.

Myth #2: A person can recover from ‘brain death’

In the UK, if you are declared ‘brain dead’ then you are legally dead. It means the brain will no longer function and the person will not regain consciousness or be able to breathe without an artificial life support machine; organs such as the heart or liver will only be able to work for a short period.

Myth #3: I’m too old to donate

Is there an age limit on donating organs? In short – no. Contrary to what some people believe, there is no maximum age for joining the NHS Organ Donation Register.

Myth #4: A smoker can’t donate organs

Some smokers will be able to donate their organs, as ultimately, decisions about the suitability of your organs for donation will be made by healthcare professionals. 

Myth #5: Organ donation will disfigure my body

While organ donation requires a surgical procedure, this is carried out by trained medical professionals who are obliged to treat the body with the utmost respect. The wounds on the body are dressed just like any other operation, and it’s still possible to have an open coffin if you wish.

Organ donation facts

If you, or someone close to you, are still sceptical about becoming an organ donor, here are some facts that may provide some helpful additional context.

  • Every year, around 1,400 people in the UK have their organs donated after death, and more than 1,000 are ‘living donors’, meaning they donate a liver or kidney while they’re alive.
  • There is no major religion that is opposed to organ donation. In fact, major religions share a belief that saving a life is a positive thing to do. If you’d like to know more about the donation of organs in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or other religions, the NHS produces a helpful guide to how different religions interpret organ donation.
  • Since May 2020, the law around organ donation has changed in England. You are now automatically considered to be an organ donor, unless you’re from an exempted group or you’ve specifically declined to donate by registering your decision. One of the arguments for opt-out organ donation is that it allows more people to save lives. An opt-out system was previously introduced in Wales in 2015, and led to a greater number of organ transplants for those whose lives depended on it.

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