There have been many inspiring stories about how organ and tissue donation has saved and transformed lives. By receiving a healthy organ and tissue donation from a living or deceased donor, transplantation recipients can have a second chance at life, do the things they normally do, and most importantly, spend more time with the people they love.

In the past year, organ and tissue transplantation saved the lives of more than a thousand Australians, both adults and children. According to the NSW Ministry of Health and the Organ and Tissue Authority, approximately 1,650 Australians are still on the waitlist for organ and tissue donation, and most of them are awaiting a kidney donation for transplantation. There are also over 12,000 dialysis patients, with many also needing a kidney donor.

These numbers highly suggest that there is still a growing need for more organ and tissue donation to facilitate lifesaving transplantation. But what is organ and tissue donation? Let’s find out.

What is organ and tissue?

The human body is composed of a wide network of systems that perform several functions. These systems, which include the nervous, digestive and circulatory systems, comprise of organs and tissues. For each system to operate efficiently, these organs and tissues must work together.

An organ is made up of a group of tissues that perform similar functions. Humans have five vital organs: the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and lungs.

Human tissue is composed of cells that are similar in structure. These cells work together as a functional unit. There are four major types of human tissue, namely, epithelial, connective, muscle and nervous tissues. Tissue donation also incorporates human bone.

What does tissue donation mean?

A tissue donation happens when tissue from a donor’s body is removed and transplanted into the recipient. Tissue transplants can enhance the life of the recipient and be used for restoring bodily functions or repairing injuries and defects.

This type of donation for transplantation is vital in surgeries done for patients with grave medical conditions or injuries, such as burn victims, people with torn ligaments, or those in need of musculoskeletal repairs.

What is organ donation?

Organ donation is a procedure that surgically removes a healthy organ from a donor and then places it into a recipient. Organ transplants are typically necessary when a patient’s organ is severely damaged by disease or injury or has failed to function.

What is the difference between organ and tissue donation?

The major difference between an organ donation and tissue transplantation is the set of conditions required during the removal of the organ or tissue from a deceased donor.

Organ Donation

Organ donors may register their donation decision to the Australian Organ & Tissue Donor Register. The organ of a donor may only be removed for organ donation after their death in hospital, exceptions are  for donors who are able to donate one of two kidneys or a partial liver for an organ transplant.

In an organ donation, the procedure is carried out at the time of the organ donor’s passing. The following must be met:

  • The organ donor is declared brain-dead
  • The organ donor no longer breathes, and their heart is not beating
  • Health professionals exerted all efforts to save the organ donor’s life but failed

Tissue Donation

People who wish to make this kind of donation often record their donation decision through the Australian Organ & Tissue Donation Network, however it is also important to talk to your family, so they are aware of your decision. Some tissue donation can be given while the donor is still alive, for example donating one’s hip during hip replacement surgery or donating your placenta during an elective caesarean birth.

For deceased donors, tissue may be recovered within the 24 hours after the person’s death, the death does not have to occur within a hospital. Tissue donation is commonly used to produce allografts for transplantation in various orthopaedic, spinal, dental, oral-maxillofacial and plastic and reconstructive surgeries.

What organ and tissue can be donated?

One donor can donate up to eight organs. Organ and tissue donation of one person can make an enormous difference in the lives of up to 100 individuals.

Tissues that can be donated

Most people can be potential donors after they have passed away. Tissues may be recovered from a donor’s body up to 24 hours after death and will be subject to assessment to ensure that the tissues are safe for donation.


Skin tissue donation helps reduce scarring, pain, and infections for burn patients. People with cleft palate and those who have undergone reconstructive surgery may also benefit from donated skin.

Bones and tendons

Bones and tendons are able to be made into allografts and used in a variety of  orthopaedic, spinal, oxio maxillofacial and dental surgeries, the bone is made up of cortical and cancellous bone which make them strong and flexible. Allografts made from Bone donation can help reconstruct deformities, joints and tissue destroyed by accident, tumours, or infection.


An eye tissue donation can help patients who have failing vision through scleral graft and corneal graft or keratoplasty. A scleral graft helps prevent blindness in patients who suffered from a severe eye injury or have had cancer cells removed from their eyes. A cornea transplant is needed by people with Keratoconus (thinning of the cornea), cornea scarring, or other injuries that cause blurred, distorted or loss of vision.

Who can donate Organs and Tissue?

Australians, regardless of gender or ethnicity, and most  religions, may donate their organs and tissue after their death. Individuals who make the decision to donate will be evaluated based on age and medical and social history before they can be deemed suitable organ and tissue donors.

To legally go on the register for organ and tissue donation, an individual must be 18 years old and over, whilst individuals who are 16-17 years old can list their interest to donate.

In both cases, it is essential to discuss any decision about being an organ and tissue donor with family members, as they will be required  to provide the consent. It is enormously helpful for families to know the wishes of their family member and can be a deciding factor in  whether the organs or tissue of the person will be donated after death.

Once consented, the organs and tissue of a potential donor are strictly for transplantation use only and not for medical research, unless the deceased donor’s family members consent to this in writing.

Can organ and tissue donations be made by a non-deceased person?

Living organ and tissue donation can provide a person waiting for a kidney or liver donor another option to save their lives. A donor can opt to donate a small part of their liver or one of their kidneys while still living.

Individuals who undergo hip replacement surgery can also donate the ball part of their hip bone or femoral head bone for a tissue transplant. This can benefit those with spinal injury or bone fractures and those who need bone grafts or are having another hip replacement surgery.

Expectant mothers giving birth via a planned caesarean section may also make a placental donation. Normally discarded after birth, the lining of the placenta is the Amnion which can be used to treat vascular and diabetic ulcers as it is rich in nutrients that are useful in healing trauma wounds.

Donors can also donate their bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells  to patients who need a bone marrow transplant. Blood stem cells can be lifesaving in treating diseases such as myeloma, leukemia, and many other blood cancers.

Living donors can be loved ones—either a relative, partner, or close friend of the recipient who can direct their donation. More often  from an anonymous donor. This is also called a non-directed or altruistic donation, where the donor cannot choose who receives the donation.

What organisations support organ and tissue donations?

Organ and Tissue donation benefits many individuals and their families, there are waiting lists for many types of transplants. Both health professionals and the government highly encourage organ and tissue donation. The Australian government, through the Support Living Organ Donors Program and transplant units, offers financial support and social support programs to any living organ and tissue donor under recovery.

There is also the Organ and Tissue Authority, which collaborates with states, communities, healthcare institutions, and the general public in growing and improving Australia’s organ and tissue donation. The Organ and Tissue Authority helms the execution of the national program for donating organs and tissue.

If you are interested in making a decision to donate or would like to find more information, there are other channels where you can register your decision to donate besides going to the Australian Organ Donor Register website. You may call the Australian Tissue Donation Network, DonateLife Australia hotline or complete a form at your local Medicare office.