How to talk to grandparents about donating their organs

Asian woman talking grandparents about donating their organs
(Image credit: Getty)

You might be wondering how to talk to grandparents about donating their organs without causing upset or frightening them unnecessarily. Some people prefer not to think about what happens when they die, and the last thing anyone wants is to make loved ones feel uncomfortable.

The good news though is that there’s no reason why the important topic of organ donation should be off limits with older members of your family. All you need is a little forethought and a lot of empathy.

Here’s how to talk to grandparents about donating their organs

It may be that your grandparents have already thought about their after-life wishes, but are yet to share them with the family. An easy way to broach the topic is to tell them about an amazing story you’ve heard. This could be where someone’s life has been saved by the generous gift of organ donation. A conversation may then unfold naturally.

The best time to start a chat is when everyone is relaxed in each other's company and when your grandparents aren't too tired. Pop the kettle on and keep the conversation light. If you notice that they seem sad or overwhelmed by the topic, drop it. You can always try again another time. 

woman chatting to grandfather

Do they know that it’s their decision?

Your grandparents may have read that the laws surrounding organ donation have changed. There is now an opt-out system in England and Wales – and in Scotland from 26th March 2021 (Northern Ireland has an opt-in system).

However, it’s good to explain that it's still very much their choice whether to be an organ donor or not. They can decide, register their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and then tell you about their decision. This will mean you’re sure about what they want.

Read more about the opt-out system

Discuss the positives

Your grandparents might need to hear why it’s positive for your whole family to be open about organ donation. Highlight how families are always involved before organ donation goes ahead. If your grandparents were able to donate their organs when they die, knowing their decision beforehand means you can support it. 

woman and grandmother on beach

Share some truths

Do your grandparents think that they’d be too old to donate their organs when they die? This is a myth. In fact anyone can decide to be an organ donor and there’s no upper age limit. It might be helpful to let them know that it would only be determined if their organs or tissue were suitable after death by medical specialists, at the time of donation. 

So your grandparents could choose to donate some, or all of their organs – and you can chat to them about this decision too. As well as donating kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and/or small bowel, tissues including heart valves and arteries, skin, bone and even corneas are also needed for transplants. 

Cornea donation helps to save and restore someone’s eyesight. This enables people to see their families again and return confidently to living independently. Almost anyone can choose to 'give the gift of sight'. Age and poor eyesight are not a barrier to cornea donation. If your grandparents would want this to happen, it’s important that you know. 

Once you’ve had the conversation, you’ll be glad you did. Knowing how to talk to grandparents about donating their organs, and then hearing about their decisions is important. It means you’d be able to support their choices after death. This makes things easier for the whole family at a very difficult time. 

Ali Horsfall
Senior Writer

Senior writer Ali Horsfall has almost 15 years of experience as a journalist and has written for national print titles and women’s lifestyle brands including Woman & Home, Woman, Woman's Own, BBC magazines, Mothercare, Grazia and The Independent.