Debunking common organ donation myths

Sharon Luk, (L), who is based at Toronto Western Hospital, and Brittany Gravesande, who is at Toronto General Hospital, are Organ and Tissue Donation Specialists. They sat down with UHN News to clear up some of the common myths about organ and tissue donation. (Photo: UHN)

Registered organ and tissue donors can help others in numerous ways.

Just one donor can save up to eight lives and can enhance the lives of up to 75 others through tissue donation. In Ontario, 1,400 people are currently on a waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant.

Though many Ontarians are eligible to become donors, the number of available donors remains low. Common misconceptions about organ donation such as age, religion and medical history may be a deterrent for those considering donor registration.

UHN sat down with Organ and Tissue Donation Specialists Sharon Luk and Brittany Gravesande to learn more about some of the common myths – and facts – around organ donation, including who can donate and what the registration process looks like.

Q: When it comes to organ donation, many people might assume that they are too old, or too sick, to be a donor. Are there any health restrictions on who can donate?

Brittany: You might be surprised to learn that anyone is a potential donor, regardless of their age or medical condition. We never want anyone to automatically rule themselves out if they want to register. All potential donors are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Sharon: Exactly. So, for example, many people who are smokers think they can’t donate their lungs, but that’s not true – there are ex vivo lung perfusion system technologies that are used on the lungs of previous smokers to optimize their lungs prior to transplantation.

Q: So, would someone who can’t donate blood be a qualifying candidate for organ donation?

Brittany: Yes! The regulations for blood donation are different from those for organ and tissue donation. Even if you cannot donate blood, you can still become an organ and tissue donor. Each case is assessed individually, but many people believe that if they can’t donate blood, they also can’t donate an organ – when that’s not the case.

Q: What about religious beliefs when it comes to registering as an organ donor?

Sharon: A lot of people assume that their religion does not support organ donation, but that’s also not true. All major religions support organ and tissue donation when the donor has the freedom to make informed consent. It’s more so an individual’s perception of their religion that is the deterrent when it comes to organ transplantation. Speaking with your faith leader is always a good first step if you’re unsure of your faith’s position on donation.

Q: A lot of people might also assume that registering for organ donation means that it might delay or impact funeral plans in the future. What is the typical timeline when it comes to receiving organs from a deceased donor?

Brittany: The organ recovery surgery typically takes places within 24 to 48 hours after consent is obtained. So, considering this, organ and tissue donation will not delay or interfere with any funeral plans the family has due to the quick turnaround of the surgery. After donation, they can carry out funeral arrangements as planned, including open casket funeral, burial or cremation.

Q: What does someone need to become a registered donor in Ontario?

Sharon: Many people think that all they need is a signed donor card, but these paper cards are no longer in use. Paper cards were once in use, and some people might think that if they still have that card that they’re still registered to be a donor. Now, you must go online to or register through Service Ontario to be officially registered. Donation decisions should always be shared with loved ones so that they are aware of your wishes.

April 23 – 29 is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week in Canada, which aims to raise awareness about the critical need for more donors across the country, encourage Canadians to register as a donor and to talk to their loved ones about organ donation. Visit to register or learn more.

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