Today, the BBC published an article revealing that some organ donors’ families have stopped donations from taking place. The statistics show that:
“In 2016/17 the total number of deceased donors was 1,413. In the same year, families blocked the donations of 91 people who had signed the register.”
“In England, NHS figures showed that 457 people died last year whilst waiting for an organ transplant.”
In essence, people who consented to donating their organs when they die do not seem to have the final say in whether or not they are actually donated.
Upon reading this news article, I wasn’t outraged at these families and ready to go on a social justice warrior rampage (not that I ever have done but you get the idea). Everyone has their reasons, whether they are religious, moral or otherwise, and I have no place to pass judgement on them. It was the figures about how many people need a transplant and how many have died on the waiting list that made me sit up.
I knew there was a demand but it was something that never felt particularly, well, demanding. Transplants are so common in hospitals now that I guess it just never struck me as a huge issue.
However, when I discovered that 505 people in five years were unable to help the people they wanted, it got me thinking. One donor has the potential to save eight lives. If they also consent to their tissue and eyes being used, fifty lives can be improved from corneal transplants for people with sight problems, to skin grafts for burn victims. One person has the opportunity to create so much positive impact, simply by giving away what they no longer need.
So why is the waiting list so long? Why are people still dying because there isn’t a suitable transplant for them? It’s largely because of the opt-in system for organ donation. This means that you have to sign up to give consent, whereas the alternative would be that everyone is eligible unless they state otherwise. In basic terms, you tick a box to say yes or leave it blank to say no, although it isn’t necessarily as simple as that.
Why would changing the system to opt-out rather than opt-in make a difference? Well, because people may be hesitant to give the go-ahead if they’re suddenly asked if they’re happy for someone to cut out their lungs or liver and give it to another person when they die. It’s not exactly the most pleasant thing to think about.
Also, people are forgetful. I’ll be the first to put my hands up and say that it hadn’t occurred to me to register until my flatmate showed me this article. It is so easy to be reminded of it, to say you’ll do it as soon as you get a chance, and then letting it completely slip your mind. A lot of people would probably be fine with certain parts of their body being donated to those who need them, but they just haven’t officially consented. The opt-out system would do that for them.
It kind of has a guilt-factor too. I’m not saying we should force people into organ donation at all, but the fact that we see these numbers in the news about waiting lists and mortality rates, then are offered the choice not to help… It might make some people stop and think about their decision more carefully rather than leaving the box blank out of ease or seeking out a way to register. This is still being discussed, though, so it is our responsibility to be active in our decision-making.
Today, I officially signed to say that my kidneys, my heart, my liver, my lung, my pancreas, my small bowel, my tissue and my bones can be transplanted if I die (for personal reasons, I didn’t give consent for my corneas). It took me two minutes in a coffee shop between lectures, that’s it.
I’m not planning on dying anytime soon but should something happen to me tomorrow, I might be able to help someone else. A part of me worried that this was just ‘feel-good charity’, when you do something for someone else to give yourself a boost, because no one will benefit from my choice today, tomorrow or – touch wood – for quite a long time. But I made my peace with it; as put by David Shariatmadari, giving to charity is selfish, but at least this kind of donation will truly help in the future. It has a more direct effect than giving money, even if it isn’t immediate.
Do it to save the lives of strangers. Do it for the feel-good factor. Do it because you said you would but then forgot. Your heart could beat in the chest of someone else when you don’t need it anymore and give them a second chance.
You can register here for the UK, here for the US, here for Canada, and here for Ireland (which you will need an organ donor card for). I’m going off the main countries I get traffic from so if you’re from somewhere else, a quick google and I’m sure you’ll be able to find the right place to sign up.