Decisions about organ donation are stressful for family members of potential organ donors. We sought to comprehensively explore the donation process from interviews conducted with family members of patients admitted to pediatric and adult intensive care units in Canada.
We conducted a qualitative study using semistructured, in-depth interviews with 271 family members asked to make an organ donation decision. We recruited participants from all provinces with an organ donation organization (n = 10), and analyzed themes using a modified grounded theory approach. On the basis of these interviews, suggestions were made by researchers and family members on how to improve the process of organ donation.
We identified 3 main themes and 9 subthemes. Families need more comprehensive support around the time of donation, including having access to someone with shared experiences, support during specific moments as needed and better support during critical transitions (e.g., when the donor body goes to the operating room). The theme of better connection to recipient(s) included receiving information about the donation surgery (e.g., which organs were recovered), establishing connection with recipients (e.g., via social networks or letters) and planned encounters. Support after donation, such as updates on organ transplantation, early mental health checks and continued connection to donor organizations, could be improved. We derived 20 suggestions for improving the organ donation process, derived from interviews with family members of pediatric and adult organ donors.
We found gaps in family support during end-of-life and donation care. Feelings of abandonment, lack of support and poor-to-little follow-up provide the empirical findings needed for hospitals and organ donor organizations to provide better support to donor families.