Donation information

Each year, hundreds of Nova Scotians get a second chance at life thanks to the generosity of people like you. By registering as an organ and tissue donor, you offer a gift that can change many lives.
A single organ donor can save up to 8 lives and a single tissue donor can save or improve the lives of 50 to 80 people.
Unfortunately, on average, 10 Atlantic Canadians die waiting for a transplant each year.

The Importance of Donation

One organ donor can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of up to 75 people through tissue donation. For those suffering from organ failure, severe burns, and heart failure, it is the difference between life and death. For those awaiting a much needed tissue graft, it can be the difference between being able to live the life you want to live the life you have.

You are six times more likely to need an organ transplant than to become an organ donor. Donation rates have increased across Canada but transplant waitlists continue to expand. It is our goal to ensure every potential donation opportunity is identified.

The impact of donation is far reaching. From giving recipients a better quality of life, it is also a gift of comfort to grieving families during tragic times and provides a great deal of hope to those who are waiting for a transplant.

Organ Donation

Everyone has the potential to be an organ donor. 

You do not need to worry about whether your medical history and health status would prevent you from donating. If and when the opportunity for donation arises, our health care professionals will consult with your family or support person and review your information to determine the safety of your organs and tissues for transplant. 

As with donating blood, potential organ and tissue donors are medically screened to ensure the safety of organs and tissues for tranplant recipients.

The law has changed surrounding organ and tissue donation (Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act). The change will help increase the identification of more Nova Scotians who may be eligible to become donors. Learn more

In Nova Scotia, organ donation from a deceased person is possible in only two circumstances: after brain death (neurological death) and after cardiocirculatory death. In some cases, patients who plan to receive Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) may also donate their organs.

Living persons may also choose to help others by donating one of their kidneys or part of their liver.

Organ Donation After Death

There are two types of organ donation after death:

Neurological Determination of Death (Brain Death) – with this type of organ donation, doctors have confirmed there is severe and permanent injury resulting in no activity of the brain. Patients are at this point, are legally dead. Patients who are determined to have brain death are able to donate because their organs, including their heart and lungs, continue to function due to the machines and medicines that the ICU team give them. 

The following organs can be donated: 
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Small bowel 

Donation after Circulatory Death – with this type of donation, the donor has a severe injury or illness. Meaningful recovery from this injury or illness is very unlikely, or the ongoing care being provided is not in keeping with the wishes of the patient. A discussion with the medical team and the family leads to a plan to switch to comfort care, allowing the patient to die naturally. In order to provide safe organs for transplant, patients must die in a timeframe that will prevent damage from happening to the organ. This is a very time sensitive process. There may be times when a patient does not die in a timeframe that enables a safe organ transplant but may enable safe tissue transplants. 

The following organs can be donated: 

  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Lungs

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) and Donation

Patients who plan to receive Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) may also choose to donate organs and/or tissues as part of their end of life care. If you have questions about MAiD and donation please speak with your MAiD provider or call 902-473-5523 to speak with one of our donation coordinators. 

Tissue donation

Every person who is 70 years of age or younger may be a potential tissue donor. There are many opportunities for tissue donation to occur even when organ donation is not possible. 
Tissue recovery will occur within 24 hours of death.
Recovered tissues are stored for future use. Each tissue donor can save and/or improve up to 75 patients’ lives. 

The following tissues can be donated:

  • Eye tissue: can offer sight restoration;
  • Bone and ligaments: can help patients having orthopedic surgery, dental surgery, and some cancer patients;
  • Heart valves 
  • Skin: can save a burn patient

Make the Decision, Share Your Life. Cornea Donation Information, Palliative Care Services (.pdf)

Living Organ Donation

Healthy adults may be able to donate a kidney after extensive medical testing determines it is safe for them. Living organ donation is coordinated by the Multi-Organ Transplant Program
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.

Cultural and Religious Perspectives

It’s a common misunderstanding that religion prohibits individuals from becoming an organ or tissue donor. 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, we encourage you to consult your religious leader.
We are committed to working with faith leaders and representatives of the various beliefs systems across Nova Scotia. We understand that you may have questions about whether your faith or beliefs affect your ability to become an organ donor. 

Donating Your Body or Brain to Science

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. 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 Dalhousie Human Body Donation Program's website.

How to Register

If the opportunity for donation occurs, your decision to donate may result in a lifesaving and/or life altering gift. This could be neighbors and others in your community battling health problems. Their lives could be immediately improved with transplantation. You can register your wish to be an organ and tissue donor or your choice to not be a donor, also known as “opting out” at any time.
If you don’t register a decision, or have not told your family about your intent to not be a donor and a donation opportunity occurs you will be considered as if you wished to consent to donation after death. There are some exceptions to this, for example new residents of Nova Scotia, transient residents such as students, or temporary workers, and those under age 19.
The health care team will always speak with your family to confirm your “last known wish” if the opportunity for donation occurs. Talk with those closest to you. Make sure they know your wishes. 

Renew your Health Card or change a donation decision:

Learn more