Us Europeans

Donors Wanted!

Cheddar, UK (View on map)

Every day, one person in the UK dies, while his or her life could have been saved by a donor organ. The United Kingdom has long lists of people waiting for an organ transplant to save their lives. A handful of European countries, including Spain, Austria, Belgium and Sweden have tried to solve the waiting list problem by automatically turning all of their citizens into organ donors, obviously with a possibility for people to resign from the program. The UK has no such system in place, but the introduction of `presumed consent` is on the way. I am asking some people in Cheddar whether they would agree to such a drastic change in organ donation policy?

Fortunately, many people live their lives without ever being forced to think about signing up as an organ donor. A small amount of people are not as fortunate and live in constant fear of dying if no replacement organ becomes available to save them.

Many people leave the question of whether or not they will sign up as donors until it`s too late. They may well have wished to put their organs to the disposal of somebody else, but if they die before having given explicit consent, their organs will not become available to somebody in need. Family of the deceased may give permission for the organs to be transplanted. However, the tragic event of a loved one dying may put people in a position that is not very suitable for making well-considered decisions. Moreover, they need to decide quickly, as organs do not remain suitable for transplantation for a long period of time.

Blood and Organs
Drew (23) is one out of many young British people who doesn`t even know whether he is a organ donor or not. `I wouldn`t mind being one`, he says, `except that I only have one kidney and my liver will probably not be very suitable. I was born with one malfunctioning kidney so they had to take it out. During the operation, I needed extra blood, which is one of the reasons why I am donating blood now. That`s very easy, it doesn`t hurt, many British do it.`

Alex (22, photo) is also donating blood . `They take one pint of blood out of me, about four times a year. It doesn`t really hurt and it`s an easy way of helping others. Moreover, the blood gets checked thoroughly, so it`s also a way to check your health on a regular basis. Many people get the afternoon off work to donate blood and it`s even possible to have the mobile blood donor roadshow come visit companies, universities and villages for people to make their donations.`

`I don`t know where my blood is going, but there is a constant need for blood and I am confident it serves a good purpose. Maybe it goes to soldiers in Iraq. Although I oppose the war, I think it`s not the soldiers who chose to be their and after all, they are brave representatives of our country. They have as much right to help as anybody else.`

Alex tells me that General Practioners (family doctors) propose their patients to become donor, either for blood while alive, or for organs after passing away. `I think nobody should be forced to become donor of either type`, Alex says. `As long as nobody is required to provide a reason of why they do not want to donate, I think an opt-out system for organ donation would be most welcome. For blood donation, it`s another story. For a start, not everybody`s blood is suitable for donation. And there`s also some side effects to it. After donating blood, you have to take it easy for the next two days to properly recover.`

Roxanne (28) holds an organ donor certificate, but does not want to donate blood because she is scared of needles. `All of my family do donate blood, but I can`t. For organs, it`s not a problem, I won`t need them after I die. I will be happy to save somebody`s life if I can.`

Ethics and religion
Contrary to popular belief, few Western religions oppose donation of organs. Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths support donation as a charitable gift of life. Roxanne would however not be too happy if any of her brain tissue was transplanted into anybody else. `I believe there`s a bit of personality in every cell of your body. Although I don`t believe transplanting organs means transmitting personality, I am scared about brain cells, much more so than a heart transplant. Whatever happens, after taking my organs, surgeons will have to put me back together before my mum finds out, because she would be horrified by the idea.`

Sam (24) would like to keep his eyes and thinks most of his organs will be useless by the time he dies anyway. `I don`t believe in life after death, so they can take my organs if they want to. I wouldn`t be bothered if the system was changed and automatically made me a donor.` John (25) wouldn`t mind either, and he wouldn`t opt-out of the system. `I think only religious people could possibly oppose to this, but otherwise, I would not see why somebody would actually not agree to be a donor.`

Ben (25) is not sure whether he is registered as a donor or not. He doesn`t like to think about the idea of dying and whatever happens after that. Like Roxanne, he would like to be put together before his funeral. `But that doesn`t mean I don`t agree to my organs being used to save somebody else. I would even be ready to give a redundant one away while alive, if I could save a friend`s life or my brother`s.`

`I do hope that science will advance so we grow organs from stem cells or take them from animals, but only if it can be proved that there are no negative side-effects. However, I think that such research is much more controversial than a simple change from required consent to presumed consent`, Ben says.

Recent polls show an increasing approval rate for the new system of making everybody a donor and major political parties support the change. Depending on cultural values, they may choose for the soft system, allowing loved ones a final say as is the required procedure in Spain. Austria has a so-called hard system, under which the opinion of loved ones is excluded from the equation. Whichever will be the final solution, the UK authorities have plenty of flavours to choose from. The discussion alone will increase people`s awareness of the organ shortage and how they can help ? which is already a major improvement.

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