Let’s talk about: organ donation

Organ donation, and death in general, can be a really difficult topic to discuss with friends and family, but it’s more important than ever to discuss your organ donation preferences with your loved ones.

In this post, I want to explain how to talk to loved ones about your preferences, and clear up some misconceptions about the organ donation process.

When England moved to an “opt out” system for organ donation preferences at the start of 2020, I saw a huge amount of misinformation online. People were sharing posts on social media stating that everyone who dies in the UK would now have their organs harvested, and that medical professionals would let their patients die so that their organs could be harvested. I want to stress that neither of these statements are true, and your preferences around organ donation will never affect the care you receive as a patient.

So, what does an “opt out” system actually mean?

Simply put, the “opt out” system means that consent for organ donation is assumed unless you have expressly registered your decision to not donate your organs. Your loved ones will still be consulted, and ultimately it is up to them to give permission for organ donation. This is why it is so important to discuss your wishes with your family.

The “opt out” system was introduced to help boost the numbers of organ donations, but as I stated above, your next of kin always have the final say. Organs are never harvested without consulting your next of kin, despite the “opt out” stance.

How are organs used after they are harvested?

Only the organs and tissues specifically agreed upon by you and your next of kin will be harvested. Only organs and tissue that are viable are harvested for transplant, but organs and tissues can also be used for medical research if consent is given.

Organ donation is absolutely life changing for those who receive transplants. Transplants save lives, while also drastically improving the quality of life of the recipient. For example, many patients in kidney failure have to attend hospital several times a week for dialysis, which can last hours. A kidney transplant means they no longer have to attend regular dialysis appointments, giving them their quality of life back. Cornea transplants can restore the recipient’s eyesight, and tissue donations can help rebuild an injured person’s face or body.

Do I have to donate all of my organs?

The short answer is no! Only agreed upon tissue and organs will be harvested, meaning you can choose only specific organs you would like to donate.

After reaching out on Twitter, I discovered many people are willing to donate all of their viable organs and tissue, but several people were hesitant to donate their corneas for a number of reasons. I wanted to clear up some misconceptions; the eye is never transplanted whole, only the cornea (the transparent part that covers the front portion of the eye) is harvested and cornea donation does not affect how a donor’s eyes look.

Can I have a normal funeral if I donate organs?

Organ donation does not prevent an open casket funeral. For funerals, the body is clothed so there are no visible signs of organ donation. If you do choose to donate your corneas, cornea donation does not affect how the eyes look, however eyes are normally closed during an open casket funeral.

Your faith and beliefs are always upheld during organ donations processes, and all major religions in the UK are open to organ donation.

Hopefully this post clears up some misconceptions and answers some questions around organ donation. According to NHS statistics, over five and a half thousand people in the UK are currently waiting for an organ transplant. There is currently a shortage of black, Asian, and other minority ethnic groups on the organ donation register. Donors from all ethnic backgrounds are needed, as best matches usually come from a donor from the same ethnic group as the recipient.

Please discuss your organ donation preferences with your friends and family, and encourage them to do the same!

Until next time,

Dani x


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