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10 facts about organ and tissue donation

Did you know that 1 donor can save 8 lives? Read 10 facts about organ and tissue donation in the Netherlands.

1. Anyone can be a donor

Anyone can register as a donor: young, old, large or small, ill or healthy. Even immigrants to the Netherlands are permitted to sign up immediately. Donation involves multiple organs and tissues, which means people who are ill or using medication can still say ‘yes'; if an illness or medication would render a particular organ unsuitable for donation, there will often still be others that could be good candidates for a transplant.

A doctor cannot determine whether the organs and tissues are suitable for donation until after the person has passed away. You are never too old to donate either; there is always a chance that you can donate an organ or tissue, whatever your age.

2. You can save up to 8 lives after you die

There are 8 organs that can be donated: the liver, lungs, heart, kidneys, pancreas and small intestine. Your tissues can also improve the quality of life for many ill people; the tissues you can donate are your skin, corneas, bone tissue including tendons and cartilage, heart valves and blood vessels.

3. The chances of you needing an organ donation are much higher than the chances of being able to donate once you die

It is much more likely that you will need an organ donation at some point in your life than that you will be able to donate one yourself; it is only possible to donate an organ if you die in hospital. In most cases this occurs when a person is brain-dead following a cerebral haemorrhage or traffic accident. This means that they are legally dead, but artificial respiration can keep the organs supplied with oxygen-rich blood, allowing them to remain suitable for transplanting.

The fact that organ donation is so often impossible is what makes it so important that as many people as possible register to become donors.

4. Registration provides clarity

After the patient has died, their doctor will consult the Donor Register to see whether or not they are registered. If you have not registered or have ticked the ‘Let my relatives decide' box, the doctor will ask your family's permission for donation.

This can be a very difficult choice for many people at such an emotional time, so it is better to consider your preference now. If you do not wish to become a donor, there is also a ‘No' box on the form. This makes everything clearer for all concerned.

5. Doctors are in the business of saving lives and will always do their best for their patients

Of course! Why would a doctor favour one patient over another? Doctors cannot know in advance which organs or tissues will be suitable for donation; they will only know once the patient has died and this has been investigated. In the Netherlands, the doctor who pronounces the patient dead is never involved in any transplants that may occur.

6. There is always enough time to say farewell to your loved one

It goes without saying that it is very important for the bereaved to be able to say farewell to the deceased properly. This can be done both before and after the donation. The removal of organs and tissues is naturally carried out with the greatest care and respect for the deceased and their relatives.

Skin and other tissues are never removed from any areas of the body that would be visible when the body is lying in state, such as the face, throat or hands. It is always possible to lay out the deceased after donation, be it at home or in a funeral parlour. They may appear to be very pale following the donation.

7. It is possible to be buried or cremated in your home country if you are an organ donor

The donation process will not delay the burial or cremation. The deceased may remain in hospital for one extra day, or half a day, depending on the organs and/or tissues to be donated. Should the deceased wish to be buried or cremated in their home country, their donation will not impede this.

8. The majority of religions and life stances have a positive view of organ donation

Most religions and life stances approve of organ donation. Proponents of organ donation say they believe it is important to help heal the sick. Dissidents claim that the body should remain intact after death. If you have doubts, you can always debate the question with a member of the clergy or another appropriate person within your faith community.

9. Everyone in the Netherlands has an equal right to a transplant

In the Netherlands it is not possible to specify conditions for the beneficiary. If permission has been given for donation, the necessary medical records and other information on the donor are retrieved. This information is used to search for a suitable beneficiary. The assignment of organs and tissues is carried out by an independent centre and is based solely on medical data such as blood group, tissue type, height and weight, although urgency of requirement and waiting times will also be considered.

Everyone in the Netherlands is equally entitled to receive a transplant. In the Netherlands it is not possible to specify conditions for the beneficiary. If permission has been given for donation, the necessary medical records and other information on the donor are retrieved. This information is used to search for a suitable beneficiary. The assignment of organs and tissues is carried out by an independent centre and is based solely on medical data such as blood group, tissue type, height and weight, although urgency of requirement and waiting times will also be considered. 

10. A donor is not a guinea pig

Of course, a donor is not a guinea pig - this goes without saying. Organs and tissues will be used solely for transplants. It may be, however, that an organ or tissue is found to be unsuitable for transplanting after it has already been removed. Doctors may then wish to use this organ to conduct research for the advancement of medical knowledge regarding transplants; no other research will be carried out, and only the organ in question will be used.

If you object to this practice, however, you can make your preference known with the ‘Bezwaar wetenschappelijk onderzoek' form (‘Objection to Medical Research').

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