Want to save a life? It could be the click of a button away

We all need our bodies – after all, they’re what we live in. But what would happen to yours if you didn’t need it anymore? I’m not talking about whether you want to be buried or cremated – I’m talking about whether you want to use it, or at least parts of it, to save a stranger’s life.

This week is transplant week, which aims to raise awareness of the issue of organ donation. The number of UK people who have benefited from deceased donors has changed very little in the last decade – up from 2,311 to 2,645. Over the same period, the number of people on the transplant waiting list has rocketed from 5,500 to 8,000.

At present in the UK we have an ‘opt in’ organ donor system. If you want your organs to be considered to save a life after you die, you sign up to the national NHS Organ Donor Register. Just over half of registrations come via the DVLA; about 1 in 5 through registering with a GP; and an increasing proportion (up from 6% in 2008-9 to 15% in 2009-10) through the online registration system.

The Scots, it seems, are the most altruistic, with 34% of the population registered with the NHS Organ Donor Register by March 2010. The Midlands and London share bottom place, with only 23% of the population signed up. Yet surveys suggest that a much greater proportion of the population than this are in favour of their organs being used, but aren’t signed up. With more people on the organ transplant register dying every year, something needs to change.

Personally, I believe that the best way to deal with these shortages is to turn the present system on its head – from the present ‘opt in’ to an ‘opt out’ system, which many other countries already have. That doesn’t for a moment remove the individual’s choice. It simply means that, instead of having to choose actively to give consent for their organs to be used to help others if they die, people would be assumed not to object to giving their organs unless they sign a refusal, which could be logged centrally in just the same way the present system is.

Nor would this change mean grieving relatives are going to discover their loved ones have been chopped up without their consent. If the worst happens, being a signed-up organ donor will allow doctors to open up the discussion with your relatives.

So what can you do in the meantime? If you’re reading this article, you probably aren’t burying your head in the sand about organ donation and the chances are that you’ve signed up as an organ donor. If you keep meaning to but haven’t got round to it, you can put that right in about two minutes. But don’t stop there. Take this opportunity to talk to your family and friends about what you’ve read today. Ask them if they’ve signed up and encourage them to take that simple step. Make sure they know your wishes and find out theirs. Of course we all hope to live a long and healthy life where organ donation is never more than an ethical discussion. But thousands of people out there don’t have that luxury – for them, the length of the organ donor waiting list is literally a matter of life and death.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.