Human Tissue Authority

The regulator for human tissue and organs

Living organ donation matching websites and social media

Matching websites and social media

This guidance provides information to potential donors, recipients and those setting up websites that aim to bring these people together on how the system works in the UK and issues to consider.

Information on the different types of living organ donation can be found here. You can find out more on the role of the HTA here.

The law and advertising for an organ

It is not illegal to place an advert, for example online or in a newspaper, seeking a living organ donor providing there is no offer of a reward, payment or material advantage to the potential donor. Under the Human Tissue Act 2004 and the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, it is an offence to give or receive a reward for the supply of, or for an offer to supply, any organ or part organ. It is also an offence to seek to find a person willing to supply any organ or part organ for reward. A reward could be any money, gift or other benefits with a financial value which influences the decision to donate an organ. As such, any offer of a reward in exchange for an organ is an offence in the UK.

If you are a patient who intends to place an advert you should speak to your transplant unit regarding your intention to do so. Transplant units are not obliged to consider all potential living donors and this approach may raise logistical difficulties. For example, a transplant unit may not have the capacity or resources to test all of those who may come forward as potential donors as a result of the advert.

Guidance for donors

As a potential organ donor, you have a number of options available to you.

  1. You are able to donate your organ entirely altruistically, this is similar to blood donation in that your organ will be given to the person on the national waiting list most in need of it, and who is a match with your organ. This is categorised as a non-directed altruistic donation.  If you choose to donate your organ in this way, you may be asked if you are willing to donate into a non-directed altruistic donor chain in order that more than one person could receive a transplant
     
  2. You can also choose to donate your organ to a specific individual you have only come into contact with as a result of your wish to donate. This is a directed altruistic donation.  In this case, you and the recipient would initially need to approach your local living transplant unit to discuss the available options. Contact details for transplant units can be found here.

Transplant units will take a wide variety of factors into account in deciding whether to take on a donor and recipient pair. Your desire to donate is only one factor.

You should be aware that you may not be a suitable donor for the person you want to donate your organ to. If you take the decision that you wish to donate to someone overseas, then you should consider how the medical costs and your expenses would be met both during the transplant process and in the future. You should contact your local transplant unit to find out more.

Guidance for recipients

If you find someone who wishes to donate to you as a result of you seeking a donor, you will both first need to approach your local living transplant unit to discuss the options. A list of living transplant units can be found here.

If you have already discussed living donation with the doctor or nurse responsible for your care, we recommend you approach them first.

Transplant units will take a wide variety of factors into account in deciding whether to take on a donor and recipient pair. Your wish to proceed with your particular donor is only one factor.

You should be aware that you may not be a suitable recipient for the person who has offered you an organ.

Payment for expenses incurred by donors

A donor, in particular, one from overseas, is likely to incur expenses as a result of the donation. The law allows for the reimbursement of certain reasonably incurred expenses, for example, loss of earnings, travel and aftercare. However, it is worth discussing at an early stage with your living transplant unit how any expenses will be met and reimbursed in order to prevent this becoming a barrier at a later stage. The NHS is not obliged to make such payments.

It is acceptable for a recipient (or the family of the recipient) to directly reimburse the donor for loss of earnings, travel and after care, if circumstances necessitate this.  

You should also be aware that the British Transplantation Society (BTS) guidance places restrictions on the circumstances under which overseas donors will be accepted. A reimbursement claim for overseas donor expenses needs to be made to the NHS Commissioning Board via the Living Donor Co-ordinator.

Paying a fee to anyone in exchange for an organ or to anyone who commits to providing you with an organ, is an offence in the United Kingdom. The HTA must be satisfied that no reward has been sought or offered for organ donation. Reward, in the context of the HT Act, is a financial or material advantage which induces a person to become a living donor. All donors are asked to provide a signed declaration confirming there is no reward associated with the organ donation and transplantation. It is also an offence to receive a reward after the donation has taken place. Where a recipient reimburses the donor for loss of earnings, travel and after care, if requested by the HTA, the donor and recipient must be able to provide evidence in order to prove that only direct travel costs were paid for and that the donor has not materially benefitted in any way.

If you require further advice, please contact the HTA at transplants@hta.gov.uk or 020 7269 1900.

Fee charging matching websites

If you are thinking of joining a website which provides an introduction service between recipients and donors and are asked to pay a fee, you may wish to consider whether this fee is fair and reasonable. For example, you may wish to find out exactly what you get for your fee. You may also wish to consider finding out what success the service has had in matching recipients to donors, both generally and in relation to your particular circumstance, for example, your blood or tissue group and whether or not you have previously received a transplant.

The British Transplantation Society (BTS) has recently issued guidance that transplant units should not accept cases for living donor assessment that arise from websites where potential transplant recipients pay a fee to register their need for an organ transplant. People considering using these websites should be aware therefore, that even if a donor were to be found via this route, the transplant community has been advised not to proceed with such cases.

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