Why We Welcome an ‘Opt Out’ System for Organ Donation By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland 

By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

** Note** Since we first published the article in October 2017, MPs have voted on the second reading of this Bill today (23/2/2018) and it is one step closer to becoming a reality. It is a landmark vote.

Among the hilarity of Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, was an announcement of a consultation, which if followed up on will literally save the lives of many people in this country – a plan to make the Organ Donor Register opt out, so consent is presumed unless you remove it.  

6,500 people are currently waiting for an organ, and a chance to live their life free from dialysis, ventilators, tubes and other medical procedures . 175 of these are children!! 

It is an unimaginable situation, waking up every morning wondering if this will be the day you, or your child, are given a chance of life or if it will be another day of struggle and disappointment.

In 2015/16 466 patients died in need of an organ and a further 881 were removed from the transplant waiting list
; many of whom would have died shortly afterwards.

These are shocking figures. It is all too easy for us just to see them as statistics. It is easy for those of us who have never been in a situation where our loved one is hanging on to life by a thread to imagine what that must feel like. Literally waiting for an organ to become available. And unfortunately the reality is that the family hoping for an organ to become available are in reality at the mercy of some one else’s misfortune.

And therein lies the problem.

Despite surveys showing that 90% of the population support organ donation only 30% of have joined the Organ Donor Register.

The shortage is further compounded by consent for organ donation in the UK remaining one of the lowest in Europe, with consent at 62%. This is mostly due to families refusing, having been unaware until the point of death of the person’s wishes.

We ask ourselves why do people not actually consent. Why they don’t sign along that dotted line? When push comes to shove it seems that people just can’t cross that line. 

Perhaps thinking of their own mortality is a step too far for some?
When the opportunity presents itself to donate a loved ones organ , it is usually during a time of massive trauma and shock. Again it easy for us to objectively see the benefit of organ donation from the outside.

But imagine that you are on the brink of losing a loved one yourself. Imagine trying to comprehend losing a child suddenly? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And so we don’t think about it.

Many of us don’t want to imagine losing a loved one. So we don’t consider organ donation. In reality it is our worst nightmare to lose a loved one suddenly, unexpectedly, and ‘before time’.

The circumstances are not exactly ideal for rational and logical thinking. And so when a doctor approaches a parent or loved one to ask for consent for organ donation the answer is sometimes no. 

Similarly to that parent hoping and wishing for an organ, another parent could be on the other side of that wall also not wanting to contemplate a child’s death.

Perhaps they shut down?

Perhaps they go into denial?

Perhaps they cannot accept in that moment that their child will die too. It’s quite a complex and brutal situation. 

For an organ to be transplanted, the body of the donor needs to be kept ‘alive’ for all intents and purposes. Again. Not something any of us would like to comprehend.
Fear, shock, denial and trauma prevent families from making important decisions about organ donation.
That is why ‘opt out’ is the best way forward in our opinion.

It may allow for people to not have to think about the trauma, their loved ones ( or their own) mortality and the technicalities of organ donation.

Reflectively and hypothetically many people would like to be able to give life to others with their organs. And this system allows for freedom of religion and belief when one chooses not to donate organs. The debate over whether you should or should not donate an organ is a matter for a separate blog in itself.

But for now let us hope that the ‘opt out’ system is put into place so that fewer people die waiting for a transplant . But also so those going through trauma themselves do not have to think the unthinkable and consent to something so difficult but yet so important during an emotional and confusing time.

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