THE IDEA that your heart may one day beat in someone else’s body, or that your lungs could help someone else to breathe, is difficult to contemplate. But it is absolutely worth contemplating, because if everyone who could donate their organs did so, more lives would be saved. The tragedy of one person’s death can mean life for another, but at the moment there are too many missed opportunities.
Five thousand two hundred people in England are desperately waiting for a life-saving, or life-enhancing, transplant. Of those, over 1,800 are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. Tragically, last year alone, one in five people who died on the organ transplant waiting list were BAME.
There is an urgent need to ensure that everyone who needs a transplant is given the best chance of getting an organ match. That’s why this month the Department for Health and Social Care announced that 20 May 2020 is planned to be the start of the new “opt-out” system for organ donation, also known as Max and Keira’s law.
“Your wishes will always be listened to when it comes to what happens to your body”
Under this new system, all adults will be considered as having agreed to donate their organs when they die unless they decide to “opt-out” or are in an excluded group. This will only apply to routine transplants, to help those on the waiting list. Thanks to Max and Keira’s families pushing this law forward, in time, we could see 700 more organs transplanted each year.
It may seem like a big change – but given many people in England are willing to donate, or would consider donating, some or all of their organs, I hope this change will help to turn goodwill into meaningful, life-saving action.
Everyone should be reassured that organ donation will absolutely remain a personal decision. Your wishes will always be listened to when it comes to what happens to your body – as will family wishes for the body of a loved one, after death.
The gift of life
It is also important to remember that while the opt-out system will be introduced in May, there is no deadline for people to record their decision– you can do this at any point by going online at www.organdonation.nhs.uk or calling 0300 123 23 23.
More people from a black background are giving the gift of life through organ donation and therefore receiving lifesaving transplants than ever before. This is fantastic, and if you are already registered to donate, I know the families of those who are ill and waiting could not thank you enough. However, we are still seeing a high number of families saying no simply because they don’t know what their loved ones wanted.
The reason it is so important is that people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to develop certain conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and certain forms of hepatitis than white people. This means they are more likely to need a transplant at some point in life but, tragically, they are less likely to receive a transplant than if they were white due to the shortage of BAME donors who would provide the right match.
Our hope is that this new system will lead to more people from all ethnic backgrounds being able to receive life changing and lifesaving organ donations.
Everybody has a role to play – the government, communities, families and friends – in breaking down the myths and perceived barriers surrounding organ donation. Organ donation saves thousands of lives each year and I’m grateful to the organisations and individuals who are working so hard to deliver the facts about organ donation to educate, raise awareness and save more lives.
So please, take the time to discuss your choice with your family and make your decision known, whatever it is.
Helen Whately is the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent and a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care.