Organ donation

Although people with multiple sclerosis can't give blood or donate bone marrow, the donation of organs is allowed. This is because an organ transplant requires the consent of the person receiving the donation, so they can be informed of any potential risks before they make their decision whether to accept an organ or not. With transfusions of blood this is not possible, as the blood is stored and given out anonymously.

We don't know exactly what triggers multiple sclerosis to develop in a person, although we know about a number of risk factors. This means that we can't be sure that a transplanted organ from a person with MS won't set off the condition in the person who receives the organ.  However, the recipient might well be prepared to take that chance, if it means that a more serious condition is improved. As the availability of organs is limited, any potential risks can be weighed against the consequences of not accepting an organ.

Donating organs for transplantation

The laws around organ donation vary across the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and the Crown dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man). Some nations operate an opt-in system, but many now operate what is commonly referred to as an opt-out system. This means that unless you have recorded a a decision not to donate (opted out), or are in an excluded group, it will be considered that you agree to be an organ donor when you die.

In an opt-out system, you still have a choice of whether you want to be an organ donor or not when you die and you can record your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register. You can change your decision at any time.

Organ donation law in England - the law changed in May 2020 and now all adults are considered to be an organ donor when they die unless they've recorded a decision not to donate, or are in one of the excluded groups - for example under the age of 18.

Organ donation law in Wales - since July 2019 the legislation for Wales is 'deemed consent'. This means if you haven't registered an organ and tissue donation decision, you'll be considered to have no objection to being a donor, unless you're in an excluded group.

Organ and tissue donation law in Scotland - here the legislation is 'deemed authorisation' or an opt-out system. If you've not confirmed whether you want to be a donor or not, you'll be considered willing to donate your organs and tissues when you die. This opt-out system applies to most adults aged 16 or over and resident in Scotland.

Organ donation law in Northern Ireland - currently operates an opt-in system for organ donation. However, in 2020 the Department of Health in Northern Ireland announced a public consultation on proposed changes to an opt-out system of consent for organ donation which demonstrated widespread support. In July 2021 the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill began the formal process through the Northern Ireland Assembly. It's hoped that it will receive Royal Assent before the end of 2022. At this point the bill would become an act, but implementation of the new law wouldn't take place until some time later.

Crown dependencies -  read more about the current laws in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man alongside any proposed changes.

Your family will always be consulted about whether you wanted to be an organ donor or not, and clinicians will never proceed with organ donation if your family or loved ones object. So, if you do want to be an organ donor after you die, it's really important that you talk to your loved ones and make sure they understand and support your decision.

Donating tissue for research

The Human Tissue Authority regulates organisations that remove, store and use human tissue for research, medical treatment and education. Their website features a list of brain banks including the UK Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's Tissue Bank, which stores tissue from the brain and spine of donors for research projects. This tissue bank provides information for those considering registering as a donor.

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