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Attitudes need to change towards organ donations

17th March 2010

Dr Paul Murphy writes in the BBC's Scrubbing Up column about how views on organ donation should change in order to prevent deaths.

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I specialise in an area of intensive care medicine that treats people who have injured their brains or spinal cords in a life-threatening way.

One in every six of these patients will not survive and a large number of the patients will have the chance to donate organs when they die.

About 90% of people in the UK say they support organ donation and would want to be given an organ to save their lives if they became unwell.

Unfortunately, only a "relatively small number of people" will be able to donate their organs.

This is because in order to give organs such as the kidneys, lungs and heart, a person's death must occur in hospital and in real life many people to not die there.

However, even when this happens the number of patients who donate organs does not even reach the 50% mark.

This unfortunate statistic means that if they die without donating organs, it means that other patients' chances of living becomes weaker.

The deaths of three people a day are caused because of a shortage of donor organs in the UK.

There are many factors which cause donor organs not to be donated. Family refusal has been highlighted in the past, as 40% of families refuse organ donation.

There is a natural reaction by a relative to prevent "further harm, [it] is both intrinsic and intense."

Also, staff may not think donations appropriate because it would cause the treatment a patient is given to be adjusted in order to let a donation occur.   

I understand these points of view, but they are both "slightly off the mark, because they fail to put the needs and the wishes of the deceased person first, at the centre of decision-making."

Staff who mention donation to families do so because "they recognise the heroic gift that donation is, the chance for you to fulfil a desire to be a saviour to people who will never meet you, but who will never forget you and the gift of life that you gave them."   

I have seen the profound impact a donated organ has had on the lives of a grieving family many times and it makes me consider whether we talk about it to families in the correct manner - "as something that we do for patients rather than to them".

It also needs to be presented at the appropriate time, so that relatives understand donation can be part of the care given to a dying person, instead of an assault on them when they have not accepted that the person will, or has, died.

We are also responsible for putting our names down on the NHS Organ Donor Register and letting our families know what we have done.  

 

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Comments

Patricia Hall

Friday 19th March 2010 @ 2:45

David Borrows MP did last Wednesday 17th March succeed in getting a 10 minute rule Bill past its first reading to bring in Mandated Choice on my behalf which will mean everybody will have to register but with a choice of yes/no or leave it to the family. My son was a donor 15 years ago and I believe this would generate more potential donors whilst retaining a persons right to choose.


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