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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Organ and body donation

You will have to act quickly if it was the wish of the deceased or the nearest relative to donate the organs for transplant, or the whole body for medical teaching purposes.


The usual procedure is to approach the next of kin to make sure they do not object to organ donation.

If the death was in a hospital or similar institution, the head of that institution is lawfully in possession of the body. They may honour the deceased’s request, in writing or orally before two witnesses, for the body to be given to medical research, if there is no reason to think the request withdrawn.

If the death has to be reported to the coroner, the coroner’s consent may be necessary before the organs or body can be donated. A medical certificate must be issued before any organs can be removed or the body used.

It is usual for kidneys, and essential for heart, lungs, liver and pancreas, to be removed from donors:

• who have been certified to be brain stem dead, and
• whose breathing, and hence heartbeat, are maintained by a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit

Kidneys can, very rarely, be removed up to an hour after heart death. Other organs can be removed up to the following times after heart death:

• the corneas from the eyes – up to 24 hours
• skin – up to 24 hours
• bone – up to 36 hours
• heart valves – up to 72 hours

The doctor attending will advise on procedure. After organ donation, the body is released to the relatives.

Whole body donation and medical teaching

Human bodies are used to teach students about the structure of the body and how it works; they may also be used to train surgeons and other healthcare professionals. People decide in advance to donate their body after their death. These donations are highly valued by staff and students at anatomy establishments.

There is information about whole body donation (in England and Wales) on the Human Tissue Authority website:

Consideration will be given to the pace and cause of death, the condition of the body at the time of death and demand in the medical schools. The body may then be accepted. Bodies may be refused if there has been a post-mortem or if any major organs except the cornea have been removed.

A body may be kept for medical teaching purposes for up to three years. The medical schools will arrange and pay for a simple funeral, or the relatives can do this for themselves. The medical school can advise relatives when the body is available for funeral.

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