Organ donation is a generous act that could drastically improve or even save a lift. England recently introduced a new Opt-Out scheme for organ donation in the hopes of increasing the number of donors, but more donors are needed worldwide to help those in need. Here’s what you need to know about how organ donation works, how to opt in or out, and why it’s so important.
What Is Organ Donation?
Organ donation involves giving an organ or tissues to another person who needs a transplant, and it can involve various parts of the body. Donating an organ can literally save a life. While there are living donors, which often involves kidney transplants, this article will look at organ donation after death.
What Can Be Donated?
Many parts of the body can be donated, including various organs and tissues. The lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, tissue, small bowel, corneas, bone, and pancreas are some examples.
In the case of tissue, which is less commonly thought of when considering the term ‘organ’ donation, just one tissue donor could benefit the lives of over 50 people.
Why Should We Donate?
Simply put, donating saves lives. Maybe you’ll be able to make a big difference to someone with a chronic health condition or disability, or maybe you’ll be the person who can save someone’s life. Your donation could bring the gift of health, life and happiness to the patient and their family and friends.
In 2019, nearly 40,000 organ transplants were performed in the US.
In 2019/20 in the UK, there were nearly 4,000 transplants. This is fantastic news for so many individuals thanks to the advances in science, technology and healthcare.
However, there are around 6,000 people on waiting lists in the UK and over 350 people died in the last year waiting for a transplant. The demand outweighs the availability, which is why the more people that are registered as potential donors the better.
Who Can Donate?
Technically anyone can register to donate, irrespective of medical conditions, smoking or age. In the UK, children can register themselves or be registered by parents and guardians.
Whether you’re elderly, have a medical condition or live with several chronic illnesses, you can still register to become a donor. You never know what your body may be able to do to help another person in need. The assessment will be made at the time of death, or of its inevitability, by specialists. They’ll decide if and what can be safely donated after taking into consideration your lifestyle and medical history.
Who Can’t Donate?
There are only a few conditions that more strictly rule people out from becoming a donor, including Ebola virus, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), active cancer and HIV, though in the case of HIV some individuals have been able donate to others with the same condition, so it’s always worth checking before ruling yourself out.
How Can We Donate?
Donation is typically on an opt-in system, whereby individuals must sign themselves up to the donor register, which can often be done online in the first instance. However, some countries have an ‘opt out’ system, meaning everyone is automatically considered to be a donor unless they state otherwise. It’s recommended that you tell those in your life of your decision to be a donor (or not) so that they can support your wishes in the event of your death.
The regulations for donation vary between countries. For example:
Opt-In System. A transplant program will evaluate any individual wishing to become a donor and make a decision as to whether to accept them. Every transplant team has their own standards and requirements, so if one transplant program doesn’t accept you as a donor candidate, another might.
Opt-Out System. With the new law in England as of 20th May 2020, you don’t need to do anything, you’ll be automatically considered to be a donor unless you express your intention to opt-out. However, you can still sign up if you wish as a means of ensuring your donation decision is honoured. It’s a good idea to speak with your family and let them know of your decision. You can also get an organ donor card to carry if you wish.
A few groups are excluded from auto opt-in, including those under 18 years of age, individuals without the mental capacity to fully understand the arrangements, and those living in England for less than a year prior to their death.
There is no deadline for opting out in England. Opting out isn’t the same as requesting for your details to be withdrawn from the register, which essentially means that there will be no decision recorded for you; if there’s no decision on the register, you’ll be assumed to be a donor unless you’re in an excluded group or you’ve made loved ones know of a decision not to donate.
What About My Family?
Family and next of kin will be involved, where possible, in the donation process before it happens. This is still the case with opt-out donation in England. If the individual is still alive but death seems inevitable, end of life care talks with the next of kin, friends and family with happen, and that’s when the Organ Donor Register will be accessed and discussed.
When Are My Organs Donated?
It’s perhaps unsurprising that many people worry that being on an organ donor list means that doctors won’t try as hard to save their lives. Medical bodies stress that this is not the case, that there are strict criteria for assessing and confirming death prior to organs being removed. It’s also stressed that organ donation involved specialists throughout the process to treat the deceased with care, dignity and respect.
How Many Donors Actually Donate Organs?
According to the NHS, sadly a majority of those that die are unable to donate their organs because of the cause of death, physical condition at the time and other factors. It’s thought that only 1 in 100 individuals in the UK who die are able to donate their organs, which is often when death occurs in an emergency or intensive care unit in a hospital.
While some may think this suggests there’s no point in signing up because it’s not likely they’ll be able to donate anyway, this is actually all the more reason for having more people on the register. The more people there are, the more choices and options will be available to those who need a donor as a matter of urgency, and to those hundreds or thousands of people waiting on a list for a matching candidate. You never know if it may just be you that could make the difference.
Can I Donate Some Organs But Not Others?
With the new law in England, you’ll either be automatically consenting to donate all organs, or none if you opt out. If you feel you want to specify which organs or tissue you are comfortable to donate, you can do so on the NHS Organ Donor Register. Here you’ll be able to say whether you want to donate all or some, and then specify what you wish to donate.
Are Under 18s Automatically Donors?
It’s important to note that the opt-out law does not include those under 18. If donation is needed by someone under the age of 18, their family will be asked to decide and to prove consent if they agree.
What If I Don’t Want To Donate? How Can I Opt Out?
Although there’s much encouragement for donation, there may be some people uncomfortable with the idea due to personal or religious beliefs. Organ donation is still a choice, nobody should feel pressured into it. There’s no deadline to register or opt-out or to change your mind.
In England, you can record your details online to opt out of donation here.
If you want to donate but have concerns over the process or how it affects your faith, you can make this clear when signing up as a donor, which is still possible regardless of the opt-in system. On the form you’ll be able to note, for instance, that you want NHS staff to discuss your donation with your family to ensure it happens in accordance with your religion, faith or other beliefs.
If you’re unsure as to whether you would be suitable, you may be surprised. Don’t let uncertainly or the assumption that because you have a health condition or you smoke that you wouldn’t be able to donate and help change a life.
The New Organ Donation Opt-Out Law for England
As of 20th May 2020, the law regarding organ donation in England has changed. All adults will now be considered to be an organ donor unless they are either in an excluded group or have specifically opted out of organ donation.
This change was in part prompted by the experience of young Max Johnson. This amazing little boy and his family were campaigning for organ donation as he waited on the list for a heart transplant, and Max has continued to campaign in the time since. He was 8 years old when he was rushed into hospital in 2016 with heart failure and an enlarged heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.
He was put on the urgent list for a transplant and thankfully he was able to get this thanks to Keira Bell, a beautiful young girl who sadly lost her life too early in a car accident. It’s thanks to her that four other lives, included Max’s, have been saved. The law is commonly known as ‘Max’s Law’ or ‘Max and Keira’s Law’.
Emma and Paul, Max’s parents, have written a book in honour of telling their story and encouraging readers to give thought to organ donation, with a proportion of the royalties to be donated to different charities. (Golden Heart is available on Amazon).
A Generous Gift Of Life
Donating an organ is one of the most generous things a person can do to make someone else’s life better or to save a life altogether. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and surgery, more is now possible than ever before.
We may all like to hope there’d be a donor if we needed one; will we be there to help another person who needs it when the time comes? It’s a personal decision that only you can make.
Further Information :
- You can read more about UK organ donation on the NHS Organ Donation website.
- Further information on organ donation in the US can be found on the HRSA OrganDonor website.
How do you feel about organ donation & the new opt-out law?