Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Issue of Family Consent to Organ Donation

Organ Donation and Transplantation made the news once more last week. Sally Johnson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation announced that family consent will no longer be required when a potential donor has already made their dying wishes clear by signing up to the the organ donor register.

By law the consent of the 'next of kin' isn't required, but families are asked out of courtesy and respect but unfortunately one in seven families refuse to give consent when they are asked and block the potential organ donation. Their loved one's final dying wishes are ignored and the potential to save and transform the lives of others is lost. Sometimes it is because the family didn't know their loved wishes or that they were on the organ donor register.

The family refusal rate is the biggest single identified obstacle to organ donation in the UK and with the percentage of organ donations decreasing, it is vital that families discuss their views on organ donation and that people let their families know that they are on the organ donor register in case they have an untimely death and are then are in a position to save lives.

Five hundred and forty seven families have blocked organ donation since 2010, meaning potential transplants of approximately one thousand two hundred weren't allowed to go ahead. It also means that the potential donors didn't have their final and last wishes fulfilled - that of giving the gift of life or giving a better quality of life to others.

As I well know, there's no greater gift - the final act of donating organs is truly the greatest gift of all and a wonderful legacy to give to others. Not only does an organ donation save and transform the life of the recipient, it affects the lives of those that surround that person, so that this final legacy ripples out and touches many. It is both tragic and sad that the opportunity to do this could ever be stopped by next of kin when it's what their loved one hoped for - that they could make a difference to someone's life or even save it, and more than one person's life too.

Now nurses will be both speaking on the donor's behalf and there will be a leaflet given to families to explain the process and the organ donation will take place even if the family do not consent as long as  a person is registered on NHSBT's organ donor register. This way the donor's expectations that they will save and transform lives will be respected and carried out. It is a more honest approach on behalf of the donor.

Personally, I think this move cannot come too soon. I've always been surprised to know that a family can turn round and veto their loved one's final wish. Even in the event of a tragedy and trying to understand what they will be going through I still find it shocking. I would always like to think that in these circumstances I would be brave and honourable enough to respect my own family members' wishes. 

It is a known fact that families can take some small comfort in knowing that their loved one has saved and transformed lives. It doesn't replace the grief and loss, I know that, but a miracle does come from tragedy and that is a wonderful legacy to leave and donor families must also take great pride in this. 

This week's news is a small step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go in the UK, regarding openness in speaking about dying matters. Most of us don't want to think of it, don't want to speak of wills, organ donation or organising our affairs in case of death. It is part of the problem and maybe we need to work on changing our thinking and our attitudes to what is a natural course in everyone's life. We shirk away from it and almost pretend it doesn't happen - it makes us uncomfortable.  Death is a fact of life though and happens to us all, so it should be a sensible and natural thing to have these discussions within our families and then everyone is clear. Being more open about our final wishes could go a long way in increasing the numbers on the organ donor register.

Below are links to the press release, the issues on family consent rates on the ODT website,  an interesting piece in the Guardian by fellow transplantee Sharon and of course the link to sign up just in case you already haven't!

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