Tissue Donation – Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Donor

Q: What is the difference between Organ and Tissue Donation?

A: Organs are the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas. Organ donors are brain dead. A brain dead person is on mechanical support (ventilator) to ensure that all organs are maintained. All donated organs must be carefully matched between donor and recipient. Matching is done according to blood matching and tissue compatibility.

Human Tissue includes the corneas and sclera from the eyes, heart valves, musculo-skeletal bone, skin, tendons and cartilage. Tissue is removed after the donor has passed away. A tissue donor may, or may not, be the same donor as the organ donor. No tissue compatibility is however necessary and anyone can donate tissue or receive tissue.

Medical Research/ Education: If a body cannot be accommodated for the above-mentioned transplant purposes, the body can be utilised for medical research, training of medical students and specialists will have the chance to master new surgical techniques.

Q: Are medical tests required to be a donor?

A: All donors will be screened and tested for transmittable diseases, to ensure the safety of the recipients.


Q: How do I become a donor?

A: The best way to ensure your wishes are carried out is to tell your family how you feel about being an organ and tissue donor. You should also keep your donor card with you at all times. These donor cards are available at all relevant organisations. Your next-of-kin have to give consent for all donations once you’ve passed away.


Q: May I choose which organs/tissue I would like to donate?

A: Yes, just remember to also inform your family.


Q: How much will organ/tissue donation cost my family?

A: There is no cost involved for the donor or next-of-kin when you register or donate tissue. Your family or medical aid will only be liable to carry the costs for medical care provided before death, as well as funeral costs.

Q: Is there any imbursement for donation?

A: No, there are no imbursement for the donation. It is against the law to sell or buy any human organs or tissue. Thus, no reward will be given – monetary or otherwise, direct or indirect – to the donor, the donor's estate, the donor's relative or any other person before or after death.

Q: What about the Privacy Clause regarding my donation?

A: All medical test results will remain confidential and will be placed on record at the various organ or tissue donor organisations. No information regarding donors and recipients will therefore be revealed.

Q: Who cannot be a donor?

A: There are several factors that render donated organ/tissue unsuitable. Any one of the following may disqualify a potential donor:

  • Death of unknown origin
  • Disease of the central nervous system
  • Hepatitis
  • HIV or sexually transmitted diseases

Prior to donation a complete medical and social history of the donor will be obtained to exclude any donor with a high-risk life style.

Q: Will organ or tissue donation delay the funeral arrangements?

A: Not at all. It is standard practice to retrieve organs or tissue without compromising the donor’s funeral arrangements.

Q: Will my loved-one be treated with dignity?

A: Yes. Only qualified personnel are employed by the National Tissue Bank and they are bound by very strict codes of conduct to ensure that each donor is treated with the utmost respect and dignity. We work closely with funeral homes to ensure that all burial issues are handled appropriately and that the family's wishes are met.

Q: What are religious views concerning donation?

A: Most religions support organ and tissue donation on the basis that it is essentially a gift of life from one human to another. We encourage families to talk with a religious leader of choice for guidance.

Q: What is the Procedure of Procurement?

A: The National Tissue Bank specifically procure human tissue for the whole of South Africa under proper, medical circumstances as stipulated in the Human Tissue Act 65 of 1983. 

Q: Will the recipient know who the donor was?

A: No. Confidentiality is applicable at all times. The recipient may write an anonymous letter to the donor’s loved ones to express his or her gratitude for this generous gift of life. The National Tissue Bank will pass this letter on to the donor family concerned.

Q: Where can bone tissue transplants be used?

A: In a number of areas:

  • Bone tissue is used to fill a void created by trauma or cancer. This bone takes the place of damaged or diseased bone and can stimulate new bone growth in the affected area.
  • Skin is used as a dressing on patients with burn wounds to prevent infection and promote quicker healing with less scarring.
  • Tendons are used to restore function to an injured limb.


Q: Are bone tissue transplants common?


A: Bone tissue transplants are the second most common transplant performed on patients, first being blood transfusions.

Q: What is the difference between bone tissue and bone marrow?

A: Bone tissue is the skeletal bone in the arms and the legs. Bone tissue is retrieved only from non-living donors. Bone marrow (stem-cells) can only be donated by a living donor. Contact the Sunflower Fund: 0800 12 1082 (toll free) for more details.

Q: Where are bone transplants used?

A: It is commonly used in orthopaedic, dental, plastic, reconstructive and neurosurgical procedures performed by medical specialists in their particular field of specialty.


Published by Marli Hanekom

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