Are there any organs we could survive without?

Sofia Miettinen

You may have heard of people needing to have their tonsils or appendix removed because they became infected. So, what role do these organs have and why can we remove them? Are there any other organs we can survive without? To answer this, we must first talk about what an organ is.


The human body is made up of many cells such as red blood cells or skin cells, and each cell has a special role. Cells are the basic building blocks of all living organisms. Cells that work together and have similar functions are grouped together and called tissues, such as muscle tissue or heart tissues. Different tissues work together to carry out their special functions, and these are called organs, such as the brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys.


What are your tonsils?

Your tonsils (also known as palatine tonsils) are an organ found at the back of your throat and are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system and protects us from infections and diseases as it contains white blood cells (lymphocytes) that fight off infection.


Tonsils are like goal keepers for the throat; they are one of the immune system’s first lines of defence against bacteria and viruses which you may have eaten or breathed in, such as the common cold. Your tonsils can sometimes become congested with too many bacteria and become red or covered in white spots and make swallowing food or drinks very painful. Tonsillitis is a common childhood illness that gets better by itself in a couple of days, but sometimes children who keep having tonsillitis many times a year can have their tonsils cut out by surgeons. Although your tonsils are important in protecting your body, your immune system can fight off infections by using organs in the rest of the lymphatic system such as your spleen.


What is your appendix?

Your appendix is a small, finger-like tube that is part of the digestive system. Food passes from your mouth down into your stomach via the oesophagus and passes into the small intestine and then the large intestine where the appendix is found.  Despite being part of the digestive system, the appendix does not help in digestion, but scientists have found that it stores lots of good bacteria that help fight off infections in the digestive system. In some animals such as koalas, the appendix appears to remain an important part of the digestive system, as it stores bacteria that helps to digest the cellulose in leaves and plant matter.


Your appendix can get blocked up with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or stools, and around 1 in 14 people will get appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix). Appendicectomy (removal of your appendix) is one of the most common operations in the United Kingdom


What other organs could you survive without?

  • Other parts of your lymphatic system

As mentioned earlier, your lymphatic system contains your tonsils but also contains your spleen. The spleen is the largest organ in the lymphatic system and is found under your ribs on your left-hand side. It filters your blood and removes any damaged or old red blood cells, as well as storing red and white blood cells and platelets, and fighting off infections. You might need to have your spleen removed because of injury or illness and some people are born without a spleen, but your liver can take over many of its functions.


  • Other parts of your digestive system

You can survive with many parts of your digestive system being removed, such as your oesophagus, stomach, small or large intestine or rectum, as well as your gallbladder. Some people have their small or large intestine removed, and surgeons can pull their intestine to come to the surface of the tummy skin, and food from your digestive system empties out into a specially designed external bag called a stoma that you empty every day.


The gallbladder stores a liquid called bile which is made by the liver. When you eat fatty foods, the gallbladder squeezes out bile into your intestines to help digest your food. Sometimes the gallbladder can get blocked up with little “stones” called gallstones, and these can be very painful, and you may need to get your gallbladder removed.


While these are some of the organs you could live without, there are many more organs you could have surgically removed and still survive, but you would need to replace their function with manmade replacements. You can also survive with only part of an organ such as part of a brain if some of the organ gets damaged, or only one kidney as the organ comes in a pair.