To ‘Opt in’ or ‘Opt out’? – Organ Donation in the UK

November 20, 2008
NHS 'Transplants save lives' website

NHS 'Transplants save lives' website

Organ donation is one of the miracles of modern medicine; the ability to transplant tissue from one person to another without rejection has brought dramatic improvements in the day to day lives of thousands of people, in many cases it is literally life-saving.

At present, however, the sad reality remains that demand outstrips supply. According to the Transplant Activity in the UK report for the financial year 2007/2008: 3235 transplant operations took place, but 7655 people were waiting for a transplant (up more than 6% from previous year), and 506 patients died while waiting for an organ transplant, (it is thought that this number could actually be as high as 1000 per year).

The debate that surrounds organ donation is fuelled by society’s moral obligation not to allow these people to die needlessly. When a person dies and they are not on the Organ Donation Register (ODR) and/or their family do not grant permission for their organs to be donated, then none can be used to help those suffering on the waiting lists.

The UK Government is desperate to improve the number of organs available for transplantation. In 2006 this led to the establishment of the Organ Transplant Taskforce, chaired by Elizabeth Buggins, in order to ‘identify barriers to organ donation and recommend actions needed to increase organ donation’.  Their most recent report The potential impact of an opt out system for organ donation in the UK, published 17th November 2008, has received widespread media coverage. With the aim to increase the number of people on the organ donation register, they examined potential benefits and the viability of a move from the current ‘opt in’ organ donation system, to a ‘opt out’ system where by every citizen in the UK is automatically registered to donate their organs when they die unless they actively decide not to.  

This post highlights relevant and useful online clips whilst briefly discussing the central ethical arguments presented by the report. It also complements this with suggested questions to use while discussing the topic.  

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Xenotransplantation – Holby City

September 8, 2006

 A recent episode of the medical drama Holby City has a 90 second clip that could prove a very nice introduction to the concept of xenotransplantation.  In the episode “Better the devil you know“, first broadcast on September 6th 2006 (Sept 7th in Scotland), a terminally ill man has to come to terms with the fact that he can no longer receive the kidney transplant he had been expecting.  Just at the end of the episode (starting 54 and a half minutes in), Dr Percival Durant (known as Abra, and played by Adrian Edmondson) tells the patient that he may be able to offer him a new solution and proceeds to give a very useable explanation of xenografts.  This could lead easily into a discussion of the scientific and ethical problems with a transplant of this type.  For those with access to the services of BUFVC, the TRILT identifier for the episode is 005BDB24.  The actual operation takes place in the next episode “Star maker (September 12th/13th).