Whose body is it anyway? (A view on organ donation)

Glancing at Twitter this morning, I came across a link to this Facebook page, created by the friends of a brave young man called Will Pope. Will is in desperate need of a heart transplant, but so far a suitable match hasn’t been found. (You can read more of his story here.) Too many people in the UK die while waiting for transplants, despite the vast majority of us being in favour of organ donation.

There are two major problems with the current system, and as a result the organs of willing donors are going to waste.

  1. We have an ‘opt in’ rather than an ‘opt out’ system.
  2. The wishes of relatives are often given precedence over those of the potential donor.

Admittedly, I am not objective about this issue. Jamie’s heart condition means it is almost inevitable that he will need a heart transplant at some point. However, I held the same views before he was born and I don’t think my personal interest invalidates the arguments.

I believe that my body belongs to me and that I alone have the right to decide what happens to it. I also believe that when I die, my body will become merely the place where I used to live. I’m not sure where I stand on what some would call the soul, but I do believe that without the spark of the life, the body is not valuable in it’s own right. (Even if you disagree, please keep reading – I think the changes I’m advocating would accommodate most beliefs.)

1) An opt-out system. Most countries with an opt-out system have a higher rate of donation than those with an opt-in system, though this is not always the case. Perhaps there would be very little increase here but it would avoid life-saving organ donations being lost due to apathy, disorganisation or the sadly misplaced belief that bad things only happen to other people. Around 90% of the population are in favour of organ donation but only around 30% have actually registered. Of course, if someone does not want their organs to be used, their wishes should be respected and protected. People who feel that way are much more likely to act and make their wishes known. An opt-out system would protect their rights while ensuring that the organs of those who just haven’t got around to it, or who don’t really care either way, could be used.

2) Giving relatives the choice. Actually, under UK law, relatives cannot overrule the wishes of a registered organ donor. In practice, their decision is often the one that is acted upon. It’s a terrible decision to have to make, at the worst possible time. I suspect many grieving relatives have said ‘No’ and regretted it later. Organs are only viable for a very short time, often not long enough for a family to accept the death of a loved one and be able to think about how that death could have any positive effect. Sometimes they may not know that the person they loved wanted to donate their organs and to refuse feels like a passive choice, potentially a lesser mistake than agreeing. Taking that pressure away from families and assuming that the person wanted to donate unless they indicated otherwise seems like a act of kindness to me.

Changing the system is a slow process (as we are seeing currently in Wales). Until it happens, the best thing we can do is ensure that our wishes are known, by registering and informing our families.

And, if you want to and haven’t already done so, click on the image to join the organ donor register.

This brings me back to Will’s Facebook campaign. His friends are asking Facebook to add a simple option to display your desire to be an organ donor on your home page, so everybody knows. It’s a little thing, but if it led to one family saying ‘Yes’ who would have otherwise said ‘No’, it could save several lives. There are so many requests to show your support on Facebook (many of which are gratuitous and even exploitative, as argued in this brilliant post) but few where clicking ‘like’ can actually have any effect in the real world. This one just might and it could be my son that your click saves… Please click here.

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4 thoughts on “Whose body is it anyway? (A view on organ donation)

    1. Thank you. It’s such a little thing but sharing that information could save lives. Let’s hope Facebook do the decent thing…

  1. Thanks for drawing attention to the problems with the system. I think the issues are similar here in the U.S. I’ve never heard of an opt-out system for organ donation, but it makes perfect sense.
    Grieving families are in no condition to have to make this decision–they have to handle so much already.

    1. Exactly – I’m sure there must be cases where relatives regret saying no. The opt-out system seems like the perfect solution. It’s been trialled in Wales recently so hopefully they’ll extend it to the rest of the UK soon.

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