You can't ask me that! Are you on the donor register?

Continuing her series tackling socially unacceptable questions, Christine Manby looks at a question that's not easy but can be incredibly powerful

Wednesday 02 January 2019 11:02 GMT
Family refusals are the biggest barrier to organ donation (Illustrations by Tom Ford)
Family refusals are the biggest barrier to organ donation (Illustrations by Tom Ford)

Are you on the donor register? Like all questions to do with death, it’s not one that leads to an easy conversation. According to NHS Blood and Transplant, recent surveys show that while as many of 80 per cent of us agree with organ donation, only 33 per cent of us have actually told our families. We imagine we don’t need to have the discussion. If we’re on the register, our wishes will be upheld, right? Not necessarily.

Professor Roy J Thomas of the Centre for Life Ethics and Organ Donation at Swansea University explains: “Family refusals are the biggest barrier to organ donation even when a person has registered as an organ donor.”

There are more than 6,000 people in the UK waiting for a donation right now. And yet last year, 1,148 families declined to honour their deceased loved one’s wish to donate. While families have no legal right to override a potential donor’s decision, in practice their support is always sought. It’s estimated by NHS BT that if those families had upheld their loved one’s wishes, there might have been 3,000 extra transplants. Transplants that those people who took the time to register presumably would have wanted to go ahead.

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