What happens if you become a donor?

Patients who die in a hospital can donate organs and tissues. This is still true if you are older, ill or have been ill, or are taking medicines. If patients die at home, they can then only donate tissues, such as bone, cartilage and tendon. For organ donation, the death has to be confirmed by a doctor.

Determination of death

Before organs or tissues may be removed for donation, a doctor must confirm that the patient has died. The doctor does this by determining that the patient is brain dead or that the heart activity and circulation have ceased permanently.

Brain dead means that a person’s brain has stopped working and will never recover. Such people can no longer breathe for themselves and there is no longer any consciousness. A machine takes over the job of breathing. Because the machine is being used, the organs still get oxygen. The heart can then continue to beat and the organs remain good for donation. This is often a difficult moment for the family because the patient still feels warm to the touch and is breathing, thanks to the machine. Doctors always investigate very carefully whether a patient is brain dead. There must be no doubt that the patient is only still breathing because of the machine. There are very strict rules for this that all doctors must follow.

Read more about brain death.

Cessation of circulation means that blood is no longer able to flow through the body because the heart has stopped beating. When the heart stops beating, the doctors always wait a further five minutes to see if the heart starts beating again spontaneously. If this does not happen, death is confirmed. The donation surgery will only be started then.

Read more about cessation of circulation.

Donation surgery

The family are allowed to be with the deceased before and after the operation. The doctors who remove the organs and tissues do so with the utmost care. The doctors do not take anything away from places where it will be seen when the deceased is laid out. A councillor from the hospital will be present for the family before and after the operation. The operation will not take longer than 24 hours. The family will not have to delay the funeral or cremation.

More information about organ and tissue donation

You can read more about the donation process on the website of the Dutch Transplant Foundation (Nederlandse Transplantatie Stichting, NTS):

The NTS can help you if you have any questions about organ and tissue donation. You can find answers on www.transplantatiestichting.nl about questions such as:

  • What happens if a patient will never get better again?
  • When is organ donation possible and when is it not?
  • How will the discussion with my family about donation be handled?
  • Can my family still say their farewells to me if I am a donor?

You can also phone us on 0900-821-2166. Mondays to Fridays from 08:30 to 19:00.