Organ and Tissue Donation

General Information on Organ and Tissue Donation​

Last modified: 
Mon, 07/13/2020 - 08:58

What is organ / tissue donation and why is it needed?

  • Organ and tissue donation is when an organ or tissue is removed from one person (‘donor’) and transplanted into another person (‘recipient’).
  • Organ and tissue donation is needed when a recipient’s organ(s) or tissue(s) are not working properly because of disease or injury.

What is the difference between an organ donation and a tissue donation?

Organ Donation

  • Organ donation is specific to organs of the body, such as heart, lungs, and kidneys.
  • Organs can only be donated after death if:
    • there has been severe brain damage and the person is no longer alive, AND
    • the person has been maintained on a ventilator until the organs are removed.
  • An organ donor usually dies an unexpected death after a severe brain injury. This often happens because of a motor vehicle accident, bleeding in the brain, or a trauma like a very bad fall.

Tissue Donation

  • Tissue donation is specific to the tissues in the body, such as corneas and bone.
  • Tissues do not require the same conditions as organs to survive, so tissue donation is possible after the heart and lungs have stopped working.
  • Tissues for donation must be removed within 12 to 24 hours after a person dies. The donor does not need to be maintained on a ventilator.

What is a living organ / tissue donor?

  • A person can donate certain organs and tissues while they are still living.  These individuals are called “living donors”.
  • The NWT organ and tissue donation registration process does not apply to living donors.  If you are interested in being a living organ / tissue donor, please speak to your health care professional.
  • Organs and tissues frequently donated by a living donor include: one of two kidneys, lobes of a liver, and bone marrow.

Are organ / tissue donations and transplants performed in the NWT?

  • No. If a person dies in the NWT, there is no mechanism to donate their organs / tissues. This is because the surgeries for donations and transplants require very specialized equipment and medical professionals, such as transplant surgeons.
  • Organ and tissue donation teams are in many regions of the country, including Alberta. The time and distance it would take to arrive and perform the necessary services, however, would not allow for organ / tissue donation in the NWT.
  • The Organ and Tissue Donation Registry gives NWT residents the option to identify and communicate their wishes and preferences with regard to organ and tissue donation, should they be in or transferred to Alberta due to critical injury.

How will Alberta’s proposed changes to their Human Tissue and Organ Donation Act (i.e. ‘opt out’ model) affect NWT residents who are in or transferred to Alberta due to critical injury?

  • Right now, Alberta is only proposing changes to their Human Tissue and Organ Donation Act. The bill is currently going through the legislative process in the Alberta legislature.
  • One of proposed changes would consider every adult in Alberta as a potential organ and tissue donor—unless they choose otherwise. This is often referred to as an ‘opt out’ or ‘presumed consent’ model.
  • If changes are made to Alberta’s legislation, the sections that set out the ‘opt out’ or ‘presumed consent’ clauses will not affect NWT residents who are in or transferred to Alberta due to critical injury.
  • The ‘opt out’ or ‘presumed consent’ portion of the bill has several exceptions, including one that requires individuals to reside in Alberta for a 12-month period immediately preceding their death.

Is there a cost to donate organs or tissues?

  • There is no cost to the donor or the donor's family for donating organs or tissues.
  • It is against the law to sell organs or tissues in Canada.

Are there religious, cultural, or spiritual issues around organ and tissue donation?

  • Feelings and beliefs about organ and tissue donation are different for everyone. It’s a very personal matter.
  • Talk to a religious leader, elder, family member, or spiritual advisor if you have any questions.

Will my family be pressured to make a decision to donate?

  • No. Organ and tissue donation is 100% voluntary, and the decision to donate is a personal one.
  • Families are told about the options of what may be possible, and then they make a choice about what they want to do. 
  • If your family agrees to donate your organs / tissues, they will be asked to sign a consent form saying they have been informed about, and agree with, the donation process. Your family will need to do this, even if you have already completed an Organ and Tissue Donation Consent Form.
  • Registering your wishes is an important way to communicate your intent to donate your organs or tissues to the medical team. Family members will feel better about their decision if they know what their loved one wants before they die.

Where can I get more information on organ and tissue donation?

For more information on organ and tissue donation, please visit: