How does it work?

There are two types of organ donation for Nova Scotian's: Donation after death and living donation.

All tissue donation occurs after death.

Organ donation after death

Organ donors have the potential to save up to eight lives. Often the people receiving these organs have been waiting for the call that will save their life.

The following organs can be donated: kidneys, liver, pancreas, lungs, heart and small bowel.

If all efforts to sustain the patient’s life have been unsuccessful, there is no hope for recovery and the family has decided to stop treatment they may be asked about organ donation. This is why it is so important to let your family know what your wishes are as this is a very difficult decision for them to make during this time. The organ donation coordinators will be able to tell your family if you registered your decision to donate through your Health Card.  Family members are also encouraged to ask the health care team about tissue and organ donation in end of life situations.

There are two types of organ donation after death:

1.     Neurological Determination of Death – with this type of donation the doctors have confirmed that that there is no brain activity. This is also known as brain death and means the brain has permanently lost all function. 

2.     Donation after Cardiocirculatory Death – with this type of donation the individual has an illness that is severe, recovery is not possible and a decision has been made to withdraw life support. If death occurs within a certain time frame after withdrawal of life support, organ donation is possible.

If the decision is to proceed with donation, our organ donation coordinators will meet with the family to review what is involved and obtain consent. They will also need to ask many questions about the individual’s health and arrange for testing and to see which organs are suitable for transplant. Transplantation programs will be contacted to see if there are suitable recipients for the organs. If so, the individual will be taken to the operating room to have the organs recovered. Donors are treated with the utmost respect and dignity as would any other patient who is undergoing a surgical procedure.

The organ donation coordinators are present throughout the entire donation process to support the family and keep them informed.

Living donation

Healthy adults may be able to donate a kidney after extensive medical testing determines it is safe for them.

If you wish to donate to a patient in need, you will need to undergo a number of medical examinations to see if you are a match with your intended recipient. If you are not well matched to your intended recipient, you can still donate and help them receive a much needed transplant from someone else through the Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program.

This program is part of Atlantic Canada’s Multi-Organ Transplant Program. If you would like additional information please call 902-473-5501 to speak with the live kidney donor coordinator.

Donating your body or brain to science

If you wish to donate your body to science, you cannot be an organ donor, however, you may be eligible to donate corneas. If you are interested in learning more about donating your body to science please visit The Dalhouse Human Body Donation Program's website.

You can be an organ and/or tissue donor and donate your brain tissue to the Maritime Brain Bank. To learn more, please visit their website. 

Tissue donation

The opportunity to donate tissue will be offered at the same time as organ donation, however, there are many opportunities for tissue donation to occur even when organ donation is not possible. Every individual who is under the age of 70 is a potential tissue donor. Tissue retrieval must occur within 24 hours of death (except for eye tissue which must be recovered within eight hours). This is why it is important for care providers to speak with families about tissue donation as soon as possible after death. Families are also welcome to start a conversation with health care providers about tissue donation if death is imminent. Tissue donation may be an option for palliative care patients as well. (.pdf)

The Regional Tissue Bank have specialists who will speak with the family to obtain consent and ask many questions about the individual’s health to see which tissues are suitable for recovery. Recovered tissues are stored for future use by patients in need. Each tissue donor can save and/or improve 50-80 patient lives. For example:

·     Eye tissue can offer sight restoration

·     Bone can help patients having orthopedic surgery and some cancer patients.

·     Heart valves can save a life

·     Skin, acting as a bandage, can save a burn patient

Common misunderstandings

Donation is against my religion.

Fact: Most major religions support donation either by promoting donation or by supporting people to make their own decision. Most religions see organ and tissue donation as a charitable act of love and giving. If you have any specific concerns or questions you should consult your religious leader.

Donation will delay or change funeral plans.

Fact: Donation may cause a slight delay of 24-48 hours.  An open casket and full funeral is still an option after donation has taken place. Every donor is treated with the utmost respect and dignity.

If I registered to be a donor with my health card I will be a donor if the opportunity presents.

Fact: Next of kin will be asked to sign consent on your behalf. Talk to your family about your decision to donate or if you change your mind. Make your wishes known.

I can’t be a donor because I have a chronic illness and/or a medical condition.

Fact: Thorough medical screening is done at the time donation. If you have an illness or medical condition you may still be able to donate.  Don’t rule yourself out.

There is an age limit for donation. I’m probably too old.

Fact: For organ donation there is no age limit. For tissue donation the age limit is 70 years.

I wear glasses and my corneas would not be good for donation.

Fact: Persons with many eye conditions (glaucoma, cataracts, etc.) can still donate corneas.

Do organs ever come from living donors?

Fact: Yes. Kidney donation is the most common procedure. In some programs people can donate part of their liver or lung to another person. The rate of living donation is increasing and it is often a family member because genetically they are a good match.


If I have a serious medical condition, can I still donate?

Yes, you can. Some tissues and organs can still be donated even if the donor has a serious medical condition. Medical suitability criteria changes as new safety information becomes available, however, all organs and tissues are tested and evaluated against current standards to ensure they are suitable for donation. Organs and tissues that are not suitable for transplant are not recovered. Not all recovered organs and tissues can be transplanted.

Should I tell my family my donation wishes?

Yes. It is very important to talk to your family so they understand your wish to be an organ and tissue donor. Even if you have registered as a donor, health professionals will ask your family for consent before recovering organs and/or tissue.

I have signed my Health Card to be a donor, will everything be done to save my life?

Yes. Every effort will be made to save your life. Organ and tissue donation are considered as an option only after all lifesaving efforts have been made.

What organs and tissues can be donated?

Organs that can be donated include kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, and small bowel.

Tissues that can be donated include corneas, sclera, skin, heart valves, bone, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.

Can I choose which organs and tissues I want to donate upon my death?

Yes. You may choose to donate all organs and tissues, or only specific organs and tissues. In Nova Scotia, you indicate your decision on your Health Card.

What do Donor 1 and Donor 2 mean on my Health Card?

On provincial Health Cards, there are two different donor classifications – Donor 1 and Donor 2. Donor 1 indicates the person has decided to donate all their organs and tissues while Donor 2 indicates he or she wishes to donate specific organs and tissues.

Can I choose who should receive my organs and tissues when I die?

No. Donated organs and tissues are transplanted to individual recipients based on need, blood type, genetic match and other criteria. A recipient can be designated only through living donation.

Is there a cost to my family if I choose to be a donor?

In Canada, the cost of recovering organs and tissue donation is covered by the healthcare system. The family is still responsible for funeral arrangements and costs associated with burial.

Can living people donate organs?

Yes. Kidney donation is the most common procedure and done here in Nova Scotia. Live liver donation does take place in other provinces in Canada.

Who can be a living organ donor?

In Nova Scotia, you must be 19 years of age or older to be a living kidney donor. Living organ donation may be an option for a healthy adult. Living donors may donate to a family member, a friend or to someone they do not know. 

If I am approved for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) does this mean I can’t be an organ donor?

You may be able to donate organs and tissues after the MAiD procedure. Please speak to your MAiD physician if you would like more information.

Any other questions?

  • Please send your question(s) to Legacy of Life: Nova Scotia Organ and Tissue Donation Program by email to or by phone at 902-473-5049.
  • For information specifically about organ donation, please contact one of the organ donation nurses at 902-473-5523 or toll-free at 1-877-841-3929.
  • For information specifically about tissue donation, please contact the Regional Tissue Bank at 902-473-4171 or toll-free at 1-800-314-6515.