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Who can be a donor?

Organs, tissues or cells may only be removed from a deceased person if consent has been granted and death has been determined. If no documented consent or refusal by the deceased person is available (e.g. in the form of a donor card, a record in the National Organ Donor Register or advance directive), the next of kin are asked if they are aware of their relative's wishes. If they are not, they have to make the decision, taking into account the deceased person's presumed wishes. If there are no next of kin, or they cannot be contacted, the removal of organs, tissues or cells is not permitted. The wishes of the deceased person take priority over those of the next of kin. If the deceased person has delegated the decision to a trusted person, the decision must be made by this person instead of the next of kin.

Aside from those suffering from cancer – which in most cases makes organ donation impossible – all those who die in a hospital intensive care unit following brain death or as a result of cardiac arrest are able to donate. In patients who have been cured of cancer, organ donation becomes possible again after five years without a tumour. It is therefore very important that you record your decision as to whether or not you wish to donate organs by making an entry in the National Organ Donor Register – and this applies even for the elderly. There is no age limit for organ donation – should the issue arise, the decisive factor is the condition of each individual organ, provided that consent for donation has been provided.

Organ donation is also possible in children. Organs from children are primarily allocated to children, too. The only exception is for newborns up to 28 days old; in this case, organ donation will not be considered on ethical and medical grounds. Every person from age 16 upwards can enter his/her decision in the National Organ Donor Register or fill out a donor card. If the question of an organ donation arises in the event of a death while in hospital, the child’s legal representatives decide.

There are three types of organ donor: those who have died following cardiac arrest or brain death, and living donors. In Switzerland in 2018, there were 126 donors after brain death and 32 donors after circulatory death, as well as 120 living donors (see our 2018 annual report available in German and French).