What is tissue donation?

‘Tissue donation’ refers to donating the parts of the human body that can be stored in a tissue bank prior to release and transplantation. These include

This differs from ‘organ donation’ where the organ is transplanted to the selected recipient almost straight away.

What happens throughout the tissue donation process?

Tissue donation through DTBV can occur up to 24 hours after death.  Tissue retrieval occurs in a specialist donation suite similar to an operating theatre.  Many hospitals also participate in the Living Donor Bone Program where the head of the femur (thigh bone at the hip joint) which is otherwise discarded is collected from patients as part of a total hip replacement operation.

  • When a potential donor is identified, a Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist from the DTBV will contact the family of the deceased usually via phone to discuss and offer the possibility of tissue donation. Families are supported through the provision of information by the Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist before the families are asked for a decision.  The decision of the family is respected and honoured regardless of the outcome.
  • If the family gives consent to tissue donation, the family member completes a questionnaire over the phone with the Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist regarding the potential donor’s medical and social history. The potential donor’s general practitioner may also be contacted for further information and other health records collected as required.  All this information is held in the strictest confidence and is only used for the purpose of donation.
  • Once the donation has been accepted, the tissue bank staff perform the removal of tissue from the donor under sterile conditions. The donor’s body is always treated with the utmost respect and dignity throughout the process.
  • After the tissue has been removed, staff take care to restore the donor’s normal appearance. This includes replacing tissue with prosthetics to restore the body’s natural form. The wishes of the family regarding clothing and viewing are taken into account as part of the consent process.

As a DonateLife Partner, the DTBV works very closely with DonateLife to achieve the world’s best practice approach to organ and tissue donation for transplantation.

To find out more about organ and tissue donation in Australia, visit the DonateLife website or download their Eye and Tissue Donation Fact Sheet.

Will funeral arrangements or coronial investigations be affected?

Organ and tissue donation does not usually affect funeral arrangements as DTBV staff will work with families and their funeral directors to accommodate their needs. Viewing the body and an open casket funeral are both possible.

Some deaths, such as deaths from unnatural causes or where the cause of death is unknown, are required by law to be investigated by the state or territory Coroner. Where a case has been, or will be, referred to the Coroner, the DTBV will seek the required authorisations from the Pathologist and the Coroner for donation to proceed.  Sometimes the investigation means some or all tissue cannot be donated as donation occurs prior to autopsy.

Can I change my mind about my donation decision?

Yes. The family can change their minds about donation at any point.  If consent is withdrawn after donation has occurred, any tissue remaining in the tissue bank will be respectfully disposed of.

What are the religious opinions about donation?

Most major religions are supportive of organ and tissue donation. If a family has any questions they would like to discuss, DTBV Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist can provide them with additional information. Further information is also available from the DonateLife website. 

Will my family be expected to pay for the cost of donation?

No. There is no financial cost to the family for tissue donation.

Which tissues will be donated?

DTBV staff will discuss with the family which tissues may be possible to donate. This will depend on the person’s age, medical history, and the circumstances of their death. The family will be asked to confirm which tissues they agree to be donated. They will later be asked to sign a consent form detailing this information.

Do I have a say in who receives the tissues?

No. The allocation of tissues is only determined by clinical need.

Will my tissues definitely be transplanted?

If your family supports donation, everything possible will be done to make sure those wishes are fulfilled. However, it can sometimes become clear at or after donation that all or some tissues intended for transplantation are not in fact medically suitable.   Families have the option to further consent to allow the DTBV to use this tissue for quality control and in-house service and product development.  All tissue from deceased donors that is no longer suitable, or for which there is no consent for further use, will be respectfully disposed of.

Is transplantation always successful?

As with any operation, there are some risks associated with transplantation surgery, however these are mostly associated with the procedure rather than the tissue graft.  The surgeon will discuss the associated risks and potential outcomes with the patient. The majority of recipients benefit greatly from their transplants and are able to lead full and active lives.

Will my family receive information about the patients who have benefited from the donation?

Australian laws restrict identifying information being shared between donor and recipient families. However, the DTBV staff can provide information about which tissues were transplanted. Although, as tissue can be stored for five years, it may be some time before this is available. Donor families and transplant recipients can write an anonymous letter to each other through the DTBV which will be passed on if the recipient of the letter consents to receive it.

What support services are available for donor families?

If the donor family wishes, the Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist will keep in contact with the family and provide ongoing support and information and also advise on available bereavement support and care.

Donor Family Support

Families asked to confirm the organ and tissue donation wishes of a loved one are dealing with loss and grief. Under such circumstances they can be helped by knowing that their family member wished to benefit others.

The DTBV Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist caring for you give the family as much support as they need during and after the decision to donate.

The DTBV Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist will be the family’s initial point of contact from the time donation is first discussed. The Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist will contact the donor family with details of support offered in Victoria. The Tissue Donation Nurse Specialist can, if the family wishes, provide information on the outcomes of the donation and give details on how to write anonymously to the recipients.


Become a Tissue Donor

Contact the DTBV

Visit the DonateLife website