Rules on organ and tissue donation

The Organ Donation Act regulates organ and tissue donation in the Netherlands. Among other things, it describes the registration procedure for donors and how recipients for organs and tissue are selected.

Consent from donor or nearest relatives

Doctors must have consent to transplant your organs or tissue. You can record your consent in the Donor Register. If you are not a registered donor, your nearest relatives may give consent.

Under the Organ Donation Act you can record your consent to donate your organs or tissues by in the national Donor Register. When you do this, you can specify what organs or tissue you would like to donate after your death.

Minimum age for registering as a donor

Children under 12 may not register as a donor in the Donor Register, nor may anyone else do this on their behalf. Doctors may only use the organs or tissue of a deceased child if they have obtained consent from the child’s parents or guardian.

Teenagers

Young people aged 12 to 15 can register as an organ donor. However, the parents or guardian may object to their child’s wishes on organ donation, even if the child is a registered donor, until the child turns 16.

18-year-olds

Young people not listed on the Register are automatically sent a donor form after their 18th birthday. The government hopes this will encourage more people to become organ donors.

Donor assessment may now take place earlier

Before an organ can be transplanted, doctors must assess its suitability for transplantation. In the past, this assessment could only be done after the patient’s death and if the patient was a registered donor or with the relatives’ consent. Following an amendment to the Organ Donation Act on 1 July 2013, organs can be assessed for suitability before the patient’s death, even if the patient is not a registered donor. Relatives’ consent it not necessary for this assessment.

Unsuitable donor material and transplant research

If donated organs or tissue turn out to be unsuitable for transplantation, they may only be used for transplant research. If you object to your organs or tissue being used for research purposes, you can make your objection known using a form (in Dutch) available from the website of the Dutch Transplant Foundation (NTS).

Identifying transplant recipients

The Organ Centre of the Dutch Transplant Foundation assesses who is eligible to receive an organ or tissue transplant based on medical data such as:

  • blood group
  • tissue type
  • the patient’s height and weight.

The urgency of requirement and waiting times are also taken into consideration.

The international organ trade and transplant tourism

Trafficking in human organs is an offence punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to one year.

Transplants may only be carried out by authorised hospitals. In the Netherlands, only university hospitals are authorised to perform transplants. But because the wait for a transplant is usually long, some patients try to find an organ donor abroad.

The Dutch government discourages ‘transplant tourism’, which entails major risks for recipients as well as donors. The quality of organs and tissue may not be ideal. It is possible for patients to become infected by HIV or other viruses through the transplanted organ or tissue.