An increasing number of people in the UK wish to leave their organs either for transplants or indeed for medical research after their death. However, the shortage of suitable donors continues.
More than 10,000 people in the UK currently need a transplant. Of these, 1,000 each year will die because there are not enough organs available. If you are based in the UK and wish to donate organs or tissue on death you are advised to join the NHS organ donor register.
You can add a clause to your will stating whether or not you wish to donate your organs for transplant but as a will is often not read for several days (sometimes weeks) after death, you should join the register and also make your family aware of your wishes.
NHS organ donor register
The NHS organ donor register is a confidential computerised database which records your agreement to the use of your organs and tissue for transplantation after your death.
In the year 2012/13, the number of people registered on ODR in the UK was 19,553,071 representing 31% of the population. The number of people on the register is up from 16,055,977 in the year 2007/08.
However, only a small number of people die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs. This is the reason why the NHS needs as many people as possible to join the register.
How to register
You can register on the NHS organ donor register website: www.organdonation.nhs.uk
If you are registered it is not necessary to carry a donor card although many people like to keep one to remind themselves of their donation wishes.
Presumed consent to organ donation
Currently, people in the UK need to ‘opt in’ to donating their bodies to be used for transplants. A system of opting out or ‘presumed consent’ is under ongoing discussion.
Under a presumed consent system every person would be deemed to have given their consent to organ donation unless they have specifically “opted out” by recording in writing their unwillingness to give organs.
In Wales a presumed consent system is due to come into force in 2015. Thereafter, all people living in Wales will be presumed to have consented for their organs to be donated unless they have specifically opted out.
You can also consider leaving your body to medical research. This is quite different to organ donation. Human bodies are used to teach students about the structure of the body and how it works; they may also be used to train surgeons and other healthcare professionals.
Under the Human Tissue Act 2004, written and witnessed consent for anatomical examination must be given prior to your death. Consent cannot be given by anyone else after your death. A consent form can be obtained from your nearest medical school and a copy should be kept with your will.
Informing your family
If you decide that you want to donate your organs or your body for medical research you should discuss the subject with your family and your GP.
They will need to know what you would like to happen after your death and your exact wishes if, for example, you want to donate some organs or tissue but not others. They will then be able to confirm your wishes to the appropriate medical staff.
If you make your donation decision without telling them, it may come as a surprise at a time when they are trying to deal with their loss.
Code of practice
There is a code of practice produced by the Department of Health which is available on their website: www.hta.gov.uk
The Human Tissue Authority (the ‘HTA’) is the watchdog for medical research. The HTA supports public confidence by licensing organisations that store and use human tissue for purposes such as research, patient treatment, post-mortem examination, teaching, and public exhibitions.
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