Organ donation is the gift of an organ to help someone else who needs a transplant. Hundreds of people's lives are saved each year by organ transplants. Organs that can be donated by people who have died include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small bowel. Tissue such as skin, bone, heart valves and corneas can also be used to help others.
When can organ donation take place?
Doctors and nurses are committed to doing everything possible to save life. Organs are only removed for transplantation once all attempts to save life have failed and after death has been certified by a doctor or doctors who are entirely independent of the transplant team.
Most donated organs come from people who die from a severe brain injury and who receive treatment on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. The brain injury damages vital centres in the brain stem which are essential to maintain life. No one can live once these centres have been destroyed. Tests can show conclusively when this has happened.
In some circumstances, patients who die in hospital but are not on a ventilator may also donate. They are called non-heartbeating donors.
Sometimes people who do not die in hospital can become tissue donors.
The consent, or lack of objection, of those closest to the patient is always sought before organs can be donated. This is why it is so important for people to discuss their wishes with their loved ones. Donation is an individual choice and views differ even within the same religious groups. Many families who agree to organ donation have said that it helps to know some good has come from their loss.
Care and respect
The removal of organs is carried out with the greatest care and respect. The family can see the body afterwards and staff can contact a chaplain or local religious leader if the family wishes.
Islam and organ donation
One of the basic aims of the Muslim faith is the saving of life. This is a fundamental aim of the Shariah and Allah greatly rewards those who save others from death.
Violating the human body, whether living or dead, is normally forbidden in Islam. The Shariah, however, waives this prohibition in a number of instances: firstly in cases of necessity; and secondly in saving another person's life. It is this Islamic legal maxim al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat (necessities overrule prohibition) that has great relevance to organ donation.
"Whosoever saves the life of one person it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind."
Holy Qur'an, chapter 5 vs. 32
"If you happened to be ill and in need of a transplant, you certainly would wish that someone would help you by providing the needed organ."