Learn about being an organ donor and saving lives

You never know when you’re going to need an organ donor. When you do, it will be too late to think much about it. Often it’s a matter of life or death. It’s why you should think about it when you don’t need it.

I – Why you should be an organ donor

Organ donors are a life saver. That sounds like a bumper sticker but I cannot overstate it. Many die because they couldn’t get a kidney or a heart in time. In the United Kingdom, 500 people die every year from a lack of available organs and 6 500 more are on the waiting list. Being an organ donor means you want to help another person live when you no longer can.

I’ve been an organ donor for about 20 years. I registered as a donor and received an organ donor card. My nearest and dearest knew about my intent. I was adamant with them – if something ever happens to me, make sure the doctors take whatever they can to help whomever needs it most. If I’m dead, I reason, why hang on to specific bits of me?

I first thought about this when a friend of mine crashed his car late one night. He hadn’t been drinking and was a careful driver. A police investigation concluded he must have swerved off the road to avoid a stray cat or dog. He hit a tree and died on the spot. At his funeral his father stunned us with a solemn announcement. My friend was an organ donor. Numerous people were alive because my friend died.

I confess I felt confused. We were mourning, of course, but this selfless act was something to applaud. We all knew him as a generous sort. Hearing his father talk about this last act of generosity made us proud to have known him.

This convinced me being an organ donor is the right thing to do.

Have you given it much thought before today?

II – The situation in Malta

The chances are most people haven’t.

In 2016 Malta adopted new organ donation laws. There’s a simple online registration facility. I like that you can choose which organs you wish to donate.

Only 2 people indicated they don’t want to be donors

I didn’t know that anyone registered in Malta before 2016 had to re-register. I had no idea about this until I started doing research for this article. Needless to say, I registered.

You can also indicate if you do not want to be a donor. So far only 2 people have done this in Malta. This explicit choice means that if you don’t want to, you can make sure no one takes your organs. I’d rather you didn’t make this choice, because being an organ donor is a good thing.

As a result, it is up to you.

Is this enough?

III – Opt-out organ donor

Almost. The situation could be better.

I would like to see a situation where organ donation is automatic. It should be opt-out, instead of opt-in because you can always state you don’t want your organs taken away.

If you want to help people you shouldn’t have to do anything extra like fill in a (albeit simple) form. Doing the right thing should be frictionless.

Imagine how many more people we could save. By October 2017, 10 331 Maltese citizens registered to be organ donors. There were 436 917 people in Malta at the time so only 2.5 % registered.

That is low. It’s a good start, but it is low.

Some would worry if the state took their organs for granted. Some will make it a point to opt out of being a donor. This is fine because it is a personal choice. I don’t think 426 586 people will opt-out though. The number of organ donors will increase.

That would be something to be proud of.

This would be enough, right?

IV – The international twist

Almost.

When I moved abroad (to Czech Republic in 2012), I wanted to register as an organ donor there. This is impossible. As a foreigner, the authorities will not touch my body and will let the home country take it and handle it.

Protocol dictates that when it comes to foreigners they don’t even consider organ donations. By the time my body arrives back in Malta, there won’t be much left to use.

It’s a pity this is the case but I can’t argue with the law.

Today many take advantage of Europe’s freedom of movement. Many people live or work in countries other than their own. We all travel to other countries for holidays too. Why can’t these people also be organ donors if that is what they want?

I’m proud to be an organ donor

To this end, if I could change the situation this is what I would do:

  • I would harmonise organ donation laws across the European Union so that the situation is the same in all European countries. It wouldn’t be fair for me to get different treatment in, say, Portugal, without my knowing about it beforehand. These should be opt-out not opt-in.
  • At European level, I would set up a database for consent and for excess organs. There won’t be much demand to ship organs across borders but there will always be rare exceptions. For those life and death situations, a common single database will help. Europe already has a Medicines Agency which could take care of this. Europe has plenty of experience with cross-border databases and IT systems; this is nothing new.

This, yes, would be enough.

V – Awareness

I wish we could put this proposal to work. Even if someone does start a discussion about things, the situation will not change overnight.

Research shows that awareness and education help people become organ donors3. This article is my way of raising awareness, hoping you will become a donor if you’re not already one.

It’s an issue which is close to my heart (pun intended).

It should be as important to you.

After all, you might need it tomorrow.

Shouldn’t we do all we can to save people? Would you rather let people die?

Share this with your friends because you don’t want to let people die.

References

  1. My patient died afraid, waiting for an organ: the law must change; Adam Kay; The Times of London; 2017-12-17
  2. What Happens When You’re Gone? Organ Donation in Malta; Emily Stewart; Pharmacy.com.mt; 2018-04-17
  3. Lauri, Mary Anne; (2018). Attitudes towards organ donation in Malta in the last decade. Malta Medical Journal Volume. 18

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.


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