An exploration of the relationship between families of deceased organ donors and transplant recipients: A systematic review and qualitative synthesis

Sean Glenton Dicks, Holly Northam, Frank MP van Haren, Douglas P Boer
  • Health Psychology Open, January 2018, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/2055102918782172

The relationship between families of deceased organ donors and transplant recipients

What is it about?

This review explores the unique relationship that develops between family members who consented to organ donation after the in-hospital death of a relative, and the organ recipients who benefited following this decision. The experiences of each party are explored to gain insight into the reasons that parties may have for wanting contact with each other. Hypotheses are made regarding the role that some form of contact can play in assisting transplant recipients and families of organ donors to cope with their respective struggles. The review also steps back to include acknowledgement of the wider system that forms around this relationship, including donation agencies, transplant centres, researchers, and regulating authorities.

Why is it important?

Each of the role players included impacts on the relationship in some way and understanding this in systemic terms can contribute to the development of interventions and procedures that fit because they have considered the system as a whole. A video abstract is available as supplementary material and summarises hypotheses about this system. It is hoped that decision-makers will include reference to the complexity in this system when making decisions so that decisions made will have lasting positive influences on the choices and autonomy of donor families and recipients while continuing to respect confidentiality and protect those involved from potential risks.


Sean Dicks (Author)
University of Canberra

It is important to draw together psycho-social research in the organ donation context to contribute to the development of theories that can guide the provision of bereavement support to families. This article is a step in that direction. It considers multiple perspectives and incorporates a wide range of sources, linking this unique feature of the bereavement of families of organ donors to current theories of grief.

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