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J Adv Nurs. 2008 Jan;61(2):134-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04491.x.

Why relatives do not donate organs for transplants: 'sacrifice' or 'gift of life'?

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  • 1School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Southampton, UK.



This paper is a report of a study to explore the reasons family members declined organ donation from a deceased relative.


In the United Kingdom family members' consent is usually sought before organ donation from their deceased relative can proceed. Knowledge of the concerns that may influence families' decision-making could be helpful to nurses supporting bereaved family members.


A convenience sample of 26 family members, who declined donation of their deceased relatives' (n = 23) organs, were recruited via three media campaigns in large conurbations and from four intensive care units in the United Kingdom. Data were collected in 2005 using interviews.


Donation decisions depended on a number of converging factors in a particular situation and not necessarily on the views of relatives about donation, or the reported wishes of the deceased in life, except if the person had stated that they did not wish to be an organ donor. Therefore, reported pro-donation views held by the family, or the deceased in life, did not guarantee donation. Protecting the dead body, which related to keeping the body whole and intact was the most frequently-recurring theme, being reported in 15 interviews.


Families' wishes to protect the dead body may stimulate tension between the notions of 'gift of life' as supported by transplant policy and 'sacrifice' of the body, which must be made if organ donation is to proceed. This could account for the decision of participants to decline donation even if their deceased relative previously held positive views about organ donation.

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