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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.
 

Many of Adrian’s organs were used for transplantation. Godfrey was glad that his son had been...

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Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
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How long did you have to make the decision about whether or not to turn off the life support?
 
Well I suppose we made it over 24 hours, we decided, it was clear I think after an hour or two that we weren’t going to be making any progress with him, so we had several discussions with the surgeon concerned, and we decided that we’d make the final decision the following morning. About 24 hours later, I suppose we had had time to just talk to other people about it, and particularly members of my family and so on. So we did that, and incidentally, one of the things that we decided quite early on was that he you know, here was a possibility of something positive coming out of it, in that we he would, you know he should be available for organ transplantation. And we were enormously helped by the fact that we were told after we’d made the decision that he had been carrying a donor card, and it, I think that was the right way round, as we actually made the decision before we knew that, which was enormously valuable confirmation.
 
Did someone at the hospital bring up the subject?
 
Only, only after we, we were asked whether we would agree to him being an organ donor. And when we said yes we certainly would agree to him being an organ donor because we felt he would want that, he was, you know he was very much of that, that mind, we’d discussed that sort of thing in the family as some families do I suppose, but especially medical families. And that was really very helpful to have that knowledge that he’d been carrying a donor card and it helped us. And I suppose I was very lucky in that we did have personal contact with the people involved in looking after Adrian, and not least the transplant surgeon actually came round that evening, and said that he was really glad that we’d agreed with this, and you know he would personally take charge of it and so on.
 
Did they tell you which parts of his body they used?
 
Well they took, yes took multiple organs, heart, liver, eyes, lungs, yes that’s right, so they did quite an extensive, but that was, that was a very positive feeling, that, especially as we knew it was something he would have wanted.
 
And I think that certainly helped us.
 
Did you ever find out later on whether those people survived? Did they tell you anything?
 
Well, we, didn’t feel we wanted to know who they were.
 
No.
 
That would have been I think too painful for us to, but yes we were told that people had done very well with the all the transplants.
 
That must be really helpful.
 
Oh yes, it certainly was, and I think that’s one of the positive things about organ donation is that it does give people an opportunity to feel something good has come out of something awful.
 
Do you want to say anything else about organ donation?
 
Well I think organ donation is very important of course, because the, the technical side of it is so good, now it can be done much more easily than it could have been done, and the big problem is of course that there are far more people eligible for organ donations than there are organs available to give to them. And that’s because I’m afraid as a country people don’t seem to be very good at agreeing to be organ donors, or the families who actually make the gift, very good at doing that.
 
And I think there’s discussion at the moment about whether we should move to an opting out system, in other words that we should automatically assume that when somebody dies suddenly and is, could be eligible for being an organ donor, that it happens automatically unless there’s express concern, express, decision that it shouldn’t be an  organ donor case. I think the gift relationship is tremendously important, I think certainly from our experience of being the parents of someone who died and could be an organ donor, it was important to us that we were able to make a positive decision, that he should be an organ donor, and it was very reassuring that he himself would have wished us to make that decision. I think for organ recipients, from my, from some of my personal experience again, it’s important to them to feel that the organs that they received were actually a gift from someone, they weren’t just organ snatched if you like.
 
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.
 
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Elizabeth was surprised when the hospital wanted bone tissue for transplantation. She was glad...

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Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
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I think it was probably the next day, somebody rang me, because she’d got an organ donation thing.
 
Carrying a card?
 
Yes she was, yes and she’d said that they could have anything but not her eyes and not her heart, but I was quite shocked actually at that, not that she was carrying the card but when they phoned me, they were asking me if they could take like bits of her legs, I always imagined it was internal organs they wanted but they wanted bits of her leg. I thought what, what’s all that about, and anyway in the end she couldn’t because she’d been on antibiotics, and there was a very selfish part of me, I suppose, I was really glad. I thought I don’t want them taking bits of her legs, just because someone wants a bit of a knee replacement or whatever they want, I mean internal organs was one thing but I was very shocked actually at what, it was like there was some vultures picking over her, I know they were very kind and put it in a nice way but it just felt wrong.
 
I can understand that.
 
It just felt wrong, I just thought just get away from her, just get away and leave her alone.
 
So they rang on the phone?
 
Yes
 
A bit hard on the phone.
 
Yes it was, it was actually.
 
Did you tell them no or did you say you wanted to think about it?
 
Well I said I wanted to think about it but meanwhile they were also doing tests. Because they said to me did I know if she’d been on any medication and I said well yes I do because in fact she’d had a water infection so I knew she’d been on antibiotics so, obviously I mentioned that and they came through so they couldn’t do it so I thought, I was really pleased actually. I know it is selfish, and well they could have had one kidney I suppose but she had, one of her kidneys was tiny anyway… but if it had been something to save somebody else’s life I would have felt differently about that but I felt like they wanted spare parts and I didn’t like that at all.
 
I’ve never heard of that being asked for.
 
Yes, yes it wasn’t very nice actually. So I was quite pleased that she’d had those antibiotics. 
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.
 

Josefine was not in favour of organ donation. She does not think bodies should be used for spare...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Organ donation was never discussed at all?
 
No, I’m so against organ donation, I’m sorry but I don’t think we are spare parts, we are not, you know. I don’t go along with the idea that it is a great thing but I just feel that way. I don’t want to support that kind of medicine that behaves like that or thinks like that.
 
Which thinks you take organs and put them in there, you take that bit out and put it in here. But I suppose I would give parts of my body to my family where it is sort of, if my body, if my tissue was, you know, it’s somehow acceptable to another, the tissue of somebody in my family, then I think yes but I don’t know. It’s an issue that I’ve always felt very strongly against, I could maybe change my mind.
See more experiences of organ donation and transplant.
 

Last reviewed October 2015.

Last updated October 2015.

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