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University of Cape Town

Organ Donation: From Death to Life

University of Cape Town via Coursera


Considering someone for organ and tissue donation at the end of life is complicated. The boundary between life and death is more complex than ever before and it falls to medical professionals to help clarify a situation at an often confusing and emotionally stressful time.

In this course you will learn about the science behind death determination and when it is possible for deceased organ donation take place. This includes the medical standards at the end of life - from brain death testing, to requesting informed consent from a grieving family. By improving knowledge of good ethical practices, cultural and religious considerations, and the logistics of the organ donation process this course will empower the interactions and discussions of medical professionals and the general public at an often confusing time.

This course will help you to ensure that the option of organ donation is compassionately explored in all appropriate situations at the end of life in the best way possible.

Watch the course trailer here

The course is certified for continuing professional development (CPD) points in South Africa. Send your completion certificate to [email protected] together with your HPCSA number for 25 general and 5 ethics points.

For another interesting course on organ donation and transplantation, see Clinical Kidney, Pancreas and Islet Transplantation from Leiden University


  • Brain Death and Consent
    • Welcome to the first week of Organ Donation - From Death to Life. In our first lesson we cover the two absolute prerequisites for deceased organ donation: That the donor must be dead and that there must be consent. Our second lesson takes a look at the history of, and the actual mechanism of brain death as well as the story behind the first heart donor. While our third lesson reviews in detail the scientific determination of brain death, from the preconditions that must be met before testing, to the actual tests themselves, including the role of ancillary tests. Our final lesson will look at the consent process, how to communicate effectively with a grieving family and what is the best way to make the organ donor request.
  • Donation after Circulatory Death
    • Not all end of life decisions in the Intensive Care Unit and the discussions that go with them can rely on the clarity of a brain death diagnosis. Just under half of all deaths in Intensive Care Units involve non-beneficial treatment being withdrawn or withheld. In less well resourced countries limited access to ICU means these decisions as to when treatment is futile frequently occur earlier, outside of the ICU setting. In week 2 we will discuss end of life care and the ethical principles which help guide us in making difficult decisions in the ICU. What do we do when interventions may prolong suffering with no reasonable chance of recovery? We will see how the dead donor rule can be applied after circulatory arrest and that in certain patients it may be possible to honour their wish to be an organ donor. We will cover the different types of donation after circulatory arrest and go over the process of donation after circulatory death in detail. We will end the week by covering tissue donation and what happens to the body of the donor after the organ donor operation is complete.
  • The Organ Donation Process
    • Who can donate? What can be donated? In this week you will learn that the number of potential organ donors is far larger than you ever thought. In the first lesson we look at the organ donation process in detail. We cover the assessment of a donor in terms of infection and malignancy risk and how individual organs are assessed for potential transplant. We look at the monitoring and interventions required to achieve various physiological goals in the organ donor. Managing a potential donor well and dealing with the complications associated with brain death is essential to maximizing the number of organs that are transplantable. It is not markedly different from any critically ill patient with multi-organ failure. We then look at the organ recovery process and how the organs are preserved and transported to the various recipients. In the second lesson the waiting list and allocation practices are discussed in detail so that you can see how donated organs are allocated fairly and how the benefit is maximized. We end the week with an overview of what each recipient operation entails and show you four interviews - all recipients of an organ transplant - given a new lease on life because of one brain dead donor and a family who consented to organ donation in a time of great personal tragedy.
  • Ethical Issues in Transplantation
    • Congratulations! You've reached the final week of the course Organ Donation: From Death to Life. Many factors influence organ donation rates across the world - from religion and culture to where you live and what resources are available. In our final week we will take a look at the role of money and travel in organ transplantation and show you the steps being taken to stamp out organ trafficking and transplant tourism. Dr Boitumelo Nkgudi a colleague of mine from Department of Surgery will speak to us on the influence that different religions and cultures have on organ donation. Organ donation comes with a lot of stigma and religious and cultural competence is essential to connecting with potential donor families before asking for consent for organ donation. We will end off our last week by looking at how to assess the true potential of deceased organ donation, what deceased organ donation models exist, and possible strategies to improve them including improving public awareness. Nobody can do everything when it comes to transplantation - but everybody can do something… Enjoy the last week of the course.

Taught by

David Thomson


4.9 rating, based on 13 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 849 ratings

Start your review of Organ Donation: From Death to Life

  • Anonymous
    This is an excellent MOOC covering a very important topic which should be of great interest to all people. I would love for this course to be included in the curriculum of every high school student. I would love to see a version of this included in the curriculum of students in elementary and middle school in countries where there may be educational disparities.
  • Anonymous
    I learned so much about the challenging complex process of organ donation and what a miracle it is to receive an organ donation. I feel motivated to inform others of the potential of organ/ tissue donation.
    Well done on a very interesting course!
  • Profile image for FRANCO SEBASTIÁN NOVA
    This is a great course, I really helps to understand organ donation as fully as I can get. I explores all of the topics that are needed, even adds some clinical view that really get into the learning process. The classes are great, the syllabus and organization of the topics really helps learning and making this a much better course. The quizes are a bit difficult but If you put your mind and effort towards this course, you can truly enjoy every aspect of It.
  • Anonymous
    This MOOC was very informative. I have always had an interest in organ donation and transplantation. And while searching for data and educational tools, I came across this MOOC and was immediately impressed with the topics discussed and the depth of knowledge gained. Would recommend anyone to take this course whether medical or not. It was life changing.
  • Anonymous
    An amazing course that I can recommend to all medical professionals! I would also recommend it to people who are not working in the medical field that might be reluctant to organ donation due to not being informed or misinformed on the issues regarding organ donation.

    I feel extremely proud to say that I have studied at UCT and that I am working at Groote Schuur Hospital. A world-class course!
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course, as a fifth year medical student it really opened my eyes to the potential and importance of organ donation and how to approach a possible donor's family with respect.
  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed this course! I came in with a fair amount of knowledge on the topic but realised there was so much I didn't know and there is always more to learn. Having short videos makes the course seem much more achievable. I liked being able to review the script as well. Really enjoyed all the anecdotes and information of practices around the world.
  • Profile image for Mariem Ben Aissa
    Mariem Ben Aissa
    This course is an amazing opportunity for everyone still stranger to organ donation.

    It helped me have a clearer and more concise idea about every aspect of the organ donation from testifying brain death, how/ when / where to approach a grieving family about organ donation, to the ethical section of donation.

    I am now convinced more than ever of organ donation.

    I highly recommend this course !
  • Anonymous
    This course is great! As a medical professional I found it to be very educational and interesting. The use of different styles of teaching--verbal, written, demonstrations-- make the course easy learning. I feel nonmedical people would also understand and learn while enoying the course.
  • Anonymous
    Anyone interested in organ donation or working in the medical field should do this course. The course is structured in such a way that I was able to follow and complete the course. My knowledge came from being a renal patient for 8 years. Really worth my while and enjoyed it very much. Thank you.
  • Anonymous
    It is really very good and informative course if you are dealing with Organ Donation or Transplantation. It have described various concepts so well and properly. Brought different perspectives of donation. I would highly recommend it.
  • Anonymous
    I found this course excellent . It was most informative , practical and well worth doing . I was able to do it in the comfort of my own home.
    I would encourage all Medical Doctors to do it !
    Dr Jayne Cunningham
    MBBcH ( Wits )
  • Anonymous
    This course clearly explains the process of organ donation and the conditions that need to be met for it to occur. It expands on the ethical issues surrounding this topic.

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