On this page

What is 'human tissue'?

Section 4 of the Human Tissue Act 1983 describes human tissue as an organ, or part of a human body and any substance extracted from a human body. This includes things such as organs, bones, skin, hair, blood, cord blood, foetal tissue and gametes (ova and semen).

However under Part 2 'Donations of tissue by living persons' of the Human Tissue Act, the reference to tissue does not include a reference to ova, semen or foetal tissue.

What can human tissue be used for?

The Human Tissue Act 1983 sets out the law for the use of human tissue. Human tissue can be removed for use for therapeutic, medical or scientific purposes only.

Is consent required to remove human tissue and use it?

Yes, consent to the removal and the use of tissue from a person's body is mandatory under NSW law. Consent may be provided by the person during their life or the senior available next of kin after their death.

If the tissue is in a tissue block or a slide such as those used in pathology departments, then no further consent is needed to retain and use the tissue for purposes such as research.

Who is the senior available next of kin?

The senior available next of kin is the person who can consent to the removal and use of a person's tissue after their death. The Human Tissue Act 1983 lists who is the senior available next of kin in order for a deceased child and for any other deceased person.

For a deceased child (younger than 18 years of age and not married):

  • a parent, or if none or not available
  • a brother or sister who is aged 18 years or older, or if none or not available
  • a person who was a guardian of the child immediately before the death of the child.

For any other deceased person:

  • the spouse (includes de facto or same sex partner), or if none or not available
  • a son or daughter who is aged 18 years or older, or if none or not available
  • a parent, or if none or not available
  • a brother or sister who is aged 18 years or older.

People who are at the same level of the hierarchy are all equal in seniority. For example, both parents of a child have an equal say in whether or not tissue can be removed from their child. Similarly, if the deceased person has no parents alive and has three brothers and one sister, all of their brothers and the sister have an equal say in whether the deceased persons tissue can be removed.

My elderly parent has died and I would like to donate their tissue to science. Can I do this?

Yes, provided you are your parent's senior available next of kin and your parent never expressed an objection to:

  • having their tissue removed
  • their body or their tissue being donated for anatomical examination or research.

Please note that some schools of anatomy will only accept donations of bodies or tissues where the deceased person gave their consent during their lifetime.

My elderly father recently passed away and he never expressed an objection to having his tissue removed. Prior to his death he got married. His wife would like to donate his body; however I do not want this to happen. I am my father's Enduring Guardian. Who decides whether or not his body will be donated?

Under the Human Tissue Act 1983 the senior available next of kin is the person who decides whether the tissue or body of the deceased person can be removed and used. The role of an Enduring Guardian ends when a person dies.

In this case, the senior available next of kin would be the spouse.

What do I need to do to authorise my deceased spouse's tissue being removed and used?

You will need to consent in writing to the use of any tissue that is removed from the body of your deceased spouse. Before you consent, you need to ensure that during his/her lifetime, your spouse never expressed an objection to tissue being removed from their body or to its use.

Before we married, my partner ticked no to organ donation on their driver licence. Before he/she died, they told me they had changed their mind and wanted to be a donor. Can I consent to their tissue being removed and used?

Yes, provided you are the senior available next of kin and can provide some evidence that your partner changed their mind. For example, by supplying details of the conversation you had where they said they wanted to donate their organs.

I want to have my deceased spouse's semen or ova removed and stored for later use. Is this possible?

Yes, you may consent to the removal of sperm or ova from your deceased spouse, provided you are the senior available next of kin and your spouse did not express any objection.

However, semen or ova that have been removed from a deceased person cannot be used in NSW in assisted reproductive technology unless the deceased person gave written consent specifically for this use.

After giving birth to my baby I would like to keep my placenta. Is it ok for me to keep it?

Yes. As long as a hospital officer agrees that the placenta does not pose a risk to your health or the health of others – such as spreading an infection, you may keep your placenta.

Can women have foetal tissue for burial or cremation following surgical terminations or procedures after a miscarriage?

NSW Health policy directive PD2016_001 Donation, Use and Retention of Tissue from Living Persons addresses the issue of the use or disposal of foetal tissue.

Under this policy, families may request that foetal tissue be returned. NSW Health policy requires that there be no public health risk associated with returning the foetal tissue.

A foetus delivered dead at 20 weeks gestation or older, is a stillbirth and registered as a birth in NSW. In NSW a baby that is stillborn is treated in the same way as other deaths.

What are the options for disposal of foetal tissue in NSW?

NSW Health policy PD2016_001 Donation, Use and Retention of Tissue from Living Persons address the issue of disposal of foetal tissue. This policy provides families with options including group cremation and interment.

Can I buy or sell organs or human tissue?

No. In NSW, it is illegal under the Human Tissue Act for someone to sell or exchange or receive a gift for giving another person organs or tissues.

I just found a jar with something that looks like a foetus or other human tissue, what should I do?

If you are in a hospital, then you will need to check whether your hospital has a local protocol for managing anatomical or pathology specimens.

If you are not in a hospital setting and you find anatomical or pathology tissue specimens then you should contact Police Assistance Line or NSW Health to seek advice.

I just found some human bones on my property. Can I keep them?

No. You should contact the Police Assistance Line as it is important that the bones are identified.

I am going into hospital to have a medical device/implant such as a hip implant removed from my body. Am I allowed to take it home?

Medical devices are regulated by the Australian Government's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) .

If the device is being removed because there has been a problem related to its use then the TGA will determine what happens to the medical device.

If the device is removed for other reasons it may be possible to apply to the hospital for the medical device to be returned to you. This will depend on the hospital assessing a number of issues including:

  • ownership of the device
  • that the device does not pose a risk of infection to your health or that of others
  • that the device doesn't contain any hazardous materials such as chemical or radioactive waste
  • whether the device is to be the subject of legal action.
Page Updated: Thursday 8 December 2016