OPINION: Organ Donation Eligibility

Statistics have revealed that in the last ten years over 6,000 people, including 270 children,

have died whilst waiting for an organ transplant that never came. Almost 7,000 patients are

currently on the UK’s transplant waiting list and 30% of them have been waiting for more

than two years. A further 500 of them have had to wait for over five years; that’s over 1,800

days of poor quality of life, pain and suffering each.

Despite an increase in new registrations this year to the NHS Organ Donor Register, the

demand for replacement organs is still far from being met. Currently in the UK, the only way

a person becomes an organ donor is by actively signing up to the register. So the idea of

introducing an “opting out” system in England could be the way to increase registrations.

Next week, from 1st December, the law in Wales will change to a soft “opt-out” system. This

means that if you want to be a donor you can register – this is “opting in” – or simply do

nothing. If you do not want to be a donor you can register this choice - “opting out”. Should

no action be taken it is assumed that there is no objection to donating your organs – this is

called “deemed consent”. You can also appoint a representative to make the decision for

you after your death. Such a scheme bases its success in the idea that only those with strong

opposing views will not eventually donate their organs.

Recently the Nuffield Trust has been looking at how to increase the participation in organ

donation in an ethically sound way. Their report considers how far it is reasonable to go to

encourage people to donate their body tissues and organs. Financial compensation is a

contentious issue as voluntary organ donation is often safer and does not target the poor

and vulnerable. Paying for or making a contribution towards the funeral costs of organ

donors would, I feel, be ethically justified, as this poses no harm to the donor and would be

an acknowledgement of the donor’s selfless act. The success of a scheme such as this needs

public support, something which can be hard to come by if people feel that the vulnerable

are being extorted in any way. Hopefully a pilot scheme of this nature will be carried out in

the near future so that public acceptance can be built up slowly over time. Healthy people

are already paid to participate in scientific research and in drug trials, and here the risk of

harm to the volunteer is greater.

The ever-present lack of suitable donors throws up the question of whether a patient who

themselves refuses to join the donor register should be eligible to receive a new organ. In

regards to blood donation, a person has never been denied a blood transfusion on account

of never having given blood themselves. However it seems very unfair that a family who are

all themselves donors may, for example, lose a child due to the inability to find a donor

match. Despite this, it is obvious that a person’s wishes must be respected and that their

previous actions should not harm their survival. It has been suggested that donors should be

given higher priority for transplant organs, but this is not ethically sound is if this were

implemented it would be using the threat of suffering and death as an incentive to register.

Hopefully a better understanding of the benefits of organ donation will encourage organ

donation for more altruistic reasons than this.

A large part of boosting the numbers on the donor register may be about reducing the

confusion or fear felt by people about what donation involves. The NHS and other health

care organisations could focus more on dispelling dangerous rumours surrounding organ

donation. Yes, the doctors will focus on saving your life as a priority and not somebody

else’s. No, people cannot buy and sell organs; the transplant laws in the UK forbid selling

human organs or tissue. There needs to be public reassurance that all organs and tissues are

removed from a deceased donor with great care and respect, and the dignity of the body is

made paramount in the operating room.

Offering to donate your body parts after your death is a huge act of selfishness, and should

be celebrated in the community. As such it should be altruism which is central to our

approach to all types of donation. However, this is not to say that the possibility of allowing

some form of payment in special circumstances should be dismissed.

An organ transplant can save or massively improve a person's health and quality of life. You

can choose to donate online or by speaking to your doctor. It can be important for your

friends and family to know that you have made this decision.


#EllieWilliams #Health #OrganDonation

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