Eye donation

Eye donation is the act of voluntarily donating one’s eyes. Since the eye is taken after the death of the person who has pledged it, it costs him or her absolutely nothing and is yet of immeasurable value to the person who receives it.

Though transplants using donor eyes can restore vision only to those suffering from corneal blindness, donated eyes that are not suitable for grafting can be used in research and study. Currently, the sclera is also being used to repair eyes. As such, all kinds of eyes are in great demand.

Even if a person has not registered with an eye bank, the next of kith and kin are legally authorized to make the decision to donate the eyes of the deceased.

Though there is a chance of rejection for every corneal transplant, there is no incompatibility of donor and recipient tissue on the basis of sex, race or even if the donor has used glasses. The color of the donor eye is also irrelevant, as only the transparent cornea and not the iris, which gives the eye its colour, is transplanted.

Whom to Contact ?
As the eyes of the donor should be removed for storage within six hours of the time of death, relatives of the deceased should inform the nearest eye bank of the donor’s death at the earliest possible time. A special nationwide toll-free number 1919 (BSNL) has been allotted for eye banks. Most eye banks in the country have this number.

When informed of a donor’s death, the eye bank will immediately dispatch a team to the funeral home, mortuary or hospital to remove the donor eyes.

Preparing for Removal

  • Cover both eyes with moist cotton pads.
  • Raise the head by about six inches, if possible, to reduce bleeding, if any, at the time of removal of eyes.
  • Switch off any ceiling fan that is directly over the deceased.
  • If possible, apply antibiotic eye drops periodically to reduce chances of infection.

Removal of Donor Eyes
The team from the eye bank will either remove the entire eye or the cornea of the eye alone. When the entire eye is removed, there may be temporary bleeding which is a minor problem that the medical team is well equipped to deal with. After the eyeballs are removed, the eyes will be closed so as to appear perfectly normal.

When the transparent cornea alone is removed, a plastic shield is placed in place of the tissue so that there will be no disfigurement.

Both methods of removal will take less than half an hour and as such, will not interfere with the funeral arrangements.

Unfit Eyes
Eyes cannot be donated from those who have died due to rabies, syphilis, infectious hepatitis, septicemia, AIDS and unknown causes.

Legal Protection
Since the year 1994, eye banks have been covered under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. According to this Act, it is a criminal offence to buy or sell organs.

All eye banks are expected to register with the government. Once registered, they are subject to periodic inspections by the concerned government officials who are also authorized to take legal action against any bank, if they deem it necessary.