The UK has turned down an opt-out scheme for organ donation in favour of running an awareness campaign to boost the number of voluntary donors. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not ruled out changing the law at a future date.
Chronicle reporter Belinda Ryan spoke to a Cheshire family whose lives have been affected by organ donation and transplants.
More than 400 people die every year in the UK while waiting for a kidney, lung, heart or liver transplant.
Many more die before they even get on to the transplant list. But even among those affected by organ donation, opinion is still divided on how best to boost the number of people signing up to donate.
Some favour adopting the presumed consent scheme, whereby doctors can remove organs from every adult who dies, unless a person has registered to opt out.
Others would prefer to keep the existing scheme where people must sign up to the organ donor register – or their families must agree – before their organs can be used.
Charles and Jane Bartlett’s seven-year-old son James is only alive because he had a liver and bowel transplant.
But Jane doesn’t believe presumed consent is the right way forward.
“There has to be more organ donating because we know of several children over the last couple of years who have died which is desperately sad especially when you have somebody like James and you can see what a miracle it is,” says Jane, who lives at Alpraham.
“But I would be against introducing a presumed consent scheme, where you had to opt out, if the UK population is not ready for it.
“It’s an emotive issue and there’s a vast majority of people who don’t consider this so if they unfortunately die what do the doctors do if family members say their relative would not have wanted that? Do they go ahead or follow the family’s wishes?”
Jane knows how desperate it is to have to wait for a donor.
“James had been given six months to live and when it got to five months we spoke to a surgeon in the States about a live donation because we couldn’t get it done here. It was going to be me who was going to donate but then I could have had problems afterwards, but you would do anything in that situation.”
Fortunately for Jane she didn’t have to – the family received the call they had been waiting five months for and James was operated on at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in January 2005.
“We were very fortunate, but many people aren’t and that’s why more people need to sign up to the register,” said Jane.
She welcomes the planned advertising campaign to promote awareness of organ donation saying that at the moment there is a “visibility issue” – donor cards, for example, aren’t seen in shops as they used to be.
“I do wonder if they could have a box which you have to tick on your driving licence or passport because most people have these. If there was a box all you would have to do was tick one or the other, saying yes or no. It’s a means of doing it without being forced to opt out.
“Also there needs to be more coverage about the success stories.”