Bereavement due to traumatic death

Organ donation

Sometimes body tissues from the victim of an accident can be used to help other people. If the deceased person has signed a donor card, is on the NHS donor register, or has otherwise left clear wishes, organ donation can go ahead. Relatives have no legal right to veto or overrule those wishes. If a person is not carrying a card or is not on the register the next of kin or a friend of longstanding (the person who has been closest to the deceased in life) may still give their consent to donation.   
Whether or not organs can be transplanted and which ones can be transplanted depends on several factors. If a person dies in hospital, and has been on a life support machine, the internal organs and other body tissue can usually be used for transplants. Godfrey’s son Adrian died in intensive care after an accident at a railway station. Godfrey and his wife were glad that he was carrying a donor card, and approved of his wish to help others after his death.
If the deceased person has been overseas recently or has been taking medicines, such as antibiotics, organ donation may not be possible. Pat described her son, Matthew, as a caring person who would have wanted to help someone else. However, he had been abroad the month before his death and had been taking anti-malarial medicine so was allowed to donate only his corneas. Pat learnt later that only one was used but does not know why, though she did ask.
If someone dies through trauma outside hospital, and has not been on a life support machine, internal organs cannot be used for organ donation. However, corneas, heart valves, and skin or bone may still be donated.
Elizabeth’s daughter Marni died in a road crash. She had been carrying a donor card so someone phoned Elizabeth to ask permission to transplant some of Marni’s body tissue. Elizabeth would not have minded if her daughter’s internal organs had been used to save someone’s life, but she disliked the idea of other parts being used.
Some people told us that organ donation had not been mentioned when their relative had died. Dean, whose son died after being hit by a car, said that he would have given permission if asked, knowing that his son would have wanted it. Josefine, whose husband died in a car crash, was not in favour of organ donation.

Last reviewed May 2019.

Last updated October 2015.


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email