The motivations and experiences of living kidney donors: a thematic synthesis

Am J Kidney Dis. 2012 Jul;60(1):15-26. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2011.11.043. Epub 2012 Feb 4.


Background: Living kidney donation is associated with better recipient outcomes compared with deceased kidney donation, but living kidney donors face the risk of physical and psychological complications. The aim of this study was to synthesize published qualitative studies of the experiences and perspectives of living kidney donors.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies of motivations to donate and experiences after donation of living kidney donors. MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and reference lists of articles were searched to April 2011.

Results: 26 studies involving 478 donors were included. We identified 6 themes about the decision to donate: compelled altruism, inherent responsibility, accepting risks, family expectation, personal benefit, and spiritual confirmation. Three themes dominated the impact of donation and postdonation: renegotiating identity (including subthemes of fear and vulnerability, sense of loss, depression and guilt, new appreciation of life, and personal growth and self-worth), renegotiating roles (including subthemes of multiplicity of roles, unable to resume previous activities, and hero status), and renegotiating relationships (including subthemes of neglect, proprietorial concern, strengthened family and recipient bonds, and avoidance of recipient indebtedness).

Conclusions: Kidney donation has a profound and multifaceted impact on the lives of donors and requires them to renegotiate their identity, roles, and relationships. Strategies to safeguard against unwarranted coercion, and to maximize donor resilience, capacity to negotiate their multiple roles as a patient and carer, emotional fortitude, and ability to have balanced expectations and relationships with the recipient and the family are needed to ultimately protect the safety and well-being of living kidney donors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • Decision Making
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Kidney Transplantation*
  • Living Donors* / psychology
  • Motivation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Concept