This series, our campaign looks at organ donation particularly focusing on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. The full item will be shown in episode one with excepts throughout the series. Read what Zoe the item producer found out.
How is the law around organ donation in the UK changing?
Organ donation is becoming a popular topic of debate after the announcement that from spring 2020, all eligible adults in England will be opted in as potential organ donors unless they actively choose to opt out, or belong to an excluded group.
The aims of the opt-out system are to educate people about the process of organ donation, and encourage more conversations about donating organs after passing away. The law change is predicted to save up to 700 more lives a year in the UK.
Talking about organ donation after death can be a difficult conversation for some families. However, it is a conversation worth having. From my research, I found out that every day, 3 people die while waiting for an organ transplant in the UK.
However, what’s even more shocking was how significantly low the number of deceased donors from black, Asian and ethnic minority (or B.A.M.E) backgrounds are. For example, in 2017 there were only 25 deceased donors belonging to black backgrounds in the UK.
Across the UK, over a third of people waiting for an organ transplant belong to B.A.M.E groups. But why is the number so high?
People from B.A.M.E backgrounds are more prone to develop health conditions such as sickle cell anaemia, diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions can lead to organ failure, where a transplant may be urgently required.
Matching blood and tissue types enhance the likelihood of transplants being successful. Although it is possible for a patient to receive an organ from someone outside their ethnic group, for most B.A.M.E patients the best match will come from a donor of the same ethnic background.
Due to a lack of both living and deceased B.A.M.E donors, patients from these backgrounds are waiting longer to find a compatible match. For example, if you are a black patient, you will wait on average 6 months longer for a kidney transplant than a white patient. Also, an Asian patient, may wait on average up to 3 years for a lung transplant, compared to a white patient with a waiting time of around 9 months.
Last year, B.A.M.E individuals made up less than 7% of the total number of deceased donors in the UK. But why is this number so low?
Religion and Faith
In the UK, the most popular religion is Christianity, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism. Each religion has a different opinion about how to treat the human body after death. While trying to research what religions say about the process, it was difficult to find a direct rule, as this medical procedure did not exist when most of the major religions were established. For example, Islamic faith follows the words of the Quran. However, there is nothing that can be referred to directly regarding organ donation. Instead, members of the Muslim community may turn to their faith leaders or family members for advice, who may decline the idea of organ donation altogether. Other faith leaders or family members advise that the decision is entirely up to the person, however if the person has not expressed their decision before passing away, their family may choose not to donate their organs.
There are several myths about organ donation that people believe:
Some people think that if doctors are aware that a patient is a registered donor, they may not try as hard enough to save a patient’s life. The contributors we interviewed from the NHS confirmed that this is false, as all staff will try to maximise life. Organ donation is only considered once a patient has died.
There is a fear that organ donation can be a long process which can delay funeral arrangements, especially if the body is being taken home to another country. However, the operation is performed as soon as possible after death.
Additionally, some people assume that organ donation will leave a patient’s body disfigured or damaged, which can prevent families from having open-casket funerals to help people grieve over their loved one. However, the organ donation operation is a respectful process which upholds the dignity of the deceased.
In conclusion, people from B.A.M.E backgrounds are more likely to develop and therefore live with illnesses and conditions that mean they urgently need an organ transplant. As there are not enough deceased donors belonging to these backgrounds, there becomes an added pressure on the NHS to help repair the quality of life for thousands of people across all B.A.M.E groups every year.
Changes like the ‘opt-in’ scheme will prompt people from all backgrounds to openly discuss organ donation with their relatives, friends and colleagues, and encourage people to resolve misconceptions and debunk myths about the organ donation process and educate everyone about the importance of sharing your decision, whatever it may be, with those around you.
Aaron with Anthony Clarkson (Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation)
Aaron with Dr. Shibu Chacko MBE (Specialist Nurse Organ Donation)
For more information about organ donation:
For advice and support:
ACLT– Tel: 020 3757 7700, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: https://aclt.org
Donate Life UK– Tel: 0845 475 3669, Email: email@example.com,
Kidney Research UK– Tel: 0300 303 1100, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: https://www.kidneyresearchuk.org/