Organ donors 'should be offered funeral expenses'


Transplant surgeon Keith Rigg: "There are nearly 8,000 people waiting for a transplant in the UK"

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Patients who donate their organs should have their funeral expenses paid for by the NHS, according to a leading ethics body.

The Nuffield Council of Bioethics report said the move could lead to more people donating their organs.

However, it ruled out directly paying donors for their organs.

The government will consider the recommendations but said donating should be "free from any financial consideration".

Keith Rigg, a transplant surgeon from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and one of the report's authors, said: "There is a well-known shortage of organs."

One recommendation to boost the number of donors was to pay the funeral costs of people who join the Organ Donor Register and whose organs are transplanted.

Prof Marilyn Strathern, who chaired the inquiry, said: "The possibility of sparing relatives the financial burden of a funeral might encourage more people to register as donors."

Will it work?

However, Mr Rigg admitted that there was "no evidence for how effective" such a proposal would be and the report recommends a pilot scheme.

Mr Rigg said the very cheapest funerals cost about £1,500 and that any NHS payment "would be an offer of a reasonable amount".

UK organ donor statistics

Donor card
  • 8,000 people are on the waiting list for a transplant
  • On average, three people die every day
  • 18 million, or one in three, people are on the Organ Donor Register
  • The NHS wants 25 million people to sign up by 2013

Dr Kevin Gunning, a consultant at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and a member of the Intensive Care Society, said: "It's not going to change a great deal about the way people think about organ donation.

"I'm not sure if I was signing up to the Organ Donor Register as a 25-year-old, the fact that my funeral expenses were going to be paid would make a great deal of difference to whether I signed up or not.

The authors said this was not a slippery slope towards payment for organs, which is illegal in the UK, as the donor would not benefit financially themselves.

Comparisons were drawn with medical schools paying funeral costs when a body was donated for research or training.

Prof Strathern said: "Altruism should continue to play a fundamental role."

The report also said more needed to be done to reduce demand for organs through measures to reduce obesity, diabetes and liver disease.

However, the report did not recommend an opt-out, or presumed consent, system in which everyone would be considered an organ donor, unless they explicitly objected.

Such a scheme is being considered by the Welsh government.

Double lung transplant recipient Emily Thackray: "Financial incentive not way forward"

However, the report said there was "uncertainty" about whether this would improve matters. It added that further studies should take place before the rest of the UK followed suit.

The British Medical Association said paying funeral costs was "an interesting idea," but "still believes that one of the best ways to increase organ donation is to move to an opt-out system with safeguards."

Egg and sperm

The report's authors said half of fertility clinics had a shortage of sperm and almost all had a shortage of eggs.

It suggested lifting the £250 cap on expenses which currently leaves "some donors out of pocket".

The regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, is due to announce the results of its public consultation next week.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Signing up to the Organ Donation Register is a selfless act that can save the lives of others.

"It is an independent personal decision that should be free from any financial consideration.

"We will consider the recommendations of the report with NHS Blood and Transplant and the Human Tissue Authority."

NHS Blood and Transplant said it welcomed debate over the matter.

It said in a statement: "This interest will help to increase awareness of the need for people to sign up to the Organ Donor register and discuss their wishes with their friends and families.

"Currently in the UK, organ donation operates according to the fundamental principle that organs/tissues are donated altruistically and it is illegal to receive a payment for supplying an organ.

"The legal, ethical and practical issues raised by these recommendations, will need careful consideration and evaluation."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    I'm personally opposed to organ donations on religious grounds, but if people do want to sell the organs of a dead relitive, then it should be an open market. It would be grossly unfare for the state to have a legal monopoly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    301Mayna No the country was handed over to the Labour Party in a GOOD financial state. I remember Tony Blair saying virtually those exact words in his acceptance speach in 1997.
    By the way, I'm not a Tory just stating facts & making clear the NHS is not the CAUSE of the countries current financial mess. That came when the tax-payer had to bail out the banks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    "The question though is how to get more people to consider this issue of organ donation in the event of their death & then to make their wishes known - whatever their point of view. Carrying an organ donor card isn't enough."

    I could not have put it better, a great post "marie". :)

    I agree that if we get people to talk about it would help - I'm open to review my stand on any item

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    If the sums add up (i.e. if paying the funeral costs won't bankrupt the NHS), then I support this suggestion. The incentive offered for organ donation is just an extension of the current incentive - altruism. I am a registered donor and would like for my family to be helped, just as I would like to help those who would recieve my organs. Great idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Some Ethnic religions forbid the donation of organs.
    Should my organs go to people who have no care about others?

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Perhaps funeral expenses are too high? Well, it depends on the funeral.
    This Nuffield ' think tank' are part of a huge private health care provider?

    Their suggestion about NHS paying funeral costs for organ donation may be a reflection on their own ethos and ethics? Interesting timing with the NHS 'Health & Social Care' Bill going through at the moment?

    Organ donation is a personal choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.


    this is back to the question of law and that a contract must be entered into willingly by both parties - an "opt--out" system is not by mutual concent and therefore not legally binding which means surgical teams could be prosecuted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    298 Mayna
    I agree no one should ever be forced into such a decision if it is against their wishes. For many though, it's simply not an issue they give any thought to.
    The question though is how to get more people to consider this issue of organ donation in the event of their death & then to make their wishes known - whatever their point of view. Carrying an organ donor card isn't enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    272 blom1
    "This is NOT an ethical issue - it is purely one of supply and demand."

    Thanks for making this point. People didn't seem to like an earlier post of miine @92, 18M donors and only 2700 transplants in 2010? The sad fact is for most transplants someone with a *suitable* organ has to die. Increasing the no. of people on the register won't solve the problem of lack of donor organs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    In my opinion we need an opt-out system rather than an opt-in.

    I've been persoanlly affected by this as my uncle had a heart transplant 20 years ago & a friend had a liver transplant 2 years ago a baby girl benefitted from the same donated liver too). I'm also a type 1 diabetic and 85 % of diabetics end up on dialysis.

    Not sure incentives are the way forward though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    "The NHS has existed for 60 +years - it isn't patient care which has 'bankrupted the country'; the country wasn't in this mess until 2008."

    Is it not our expectations of what we wish the NHS to do that has lead to bankrucy? Over the years with the advance of techology and medicine what is possible has increased beyond all concepts of the original NHS so it was only a matter of time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    The chlroine used to sterilise our tap water is a poison in the true sense of the word.

    Glad I'm not alone in that realisation.Fluorine also. Question is at what threshold does it impair our lives or act further on like x-raying pregnant women did to 2 generations on. Add this to all the insecticide and stuff people eat. Our bodies are full of chemicals that shoud never be there

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.


    The rights of the living must come first because people are dying needlessly because of a shortage of organs. I'm not saying that the dead deserve no respect, but whatever happens to your corpse after you die cannot compare with losing your life because vital organs are going to waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    Fair view point, but may I ask your thoughts on that if it is not an ethical question does offering payment (in 1 for or another) not make dealing with the deceased simply commodity handling? Is there not a ethical imperative when someone is persuaded from a view point/moral stance for cash reward? eg. if you were offered £1M for live donation perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    62 TheTomTyke
    So if you - or one of your children - was ever unlucky enough to develop a serious kidney or heart disease & the only hope was a transplant, I take it you would not want any treatment at all then?

    The NHS has existed for 60 +years - it isn't patient care which has 'bankrupted the country'; the country wasn't in this mess until 2008.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    So if I don't elect to donate my guts I will be left to rot in the hospital car park. I think not, which renders this whole silly idea to the trash can where it belongs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    I understood that money for organs was OUT!
    Isn't this idea a kind of soft prostitution? £2000 for the organ harvester to get in there?

    Not for me. I;m neither a recipient nor a donor. I absolutely abhor this Frankenstein stuff but if others must succumb, fine, but keep financial incentive out of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    I've been a prospective organ donor for several years now, and have deliberated over this issue a lot... in my mid-twenties, and from a low-income family that struggles to find money for most things, this sort of initiative would DEFINITELY persuade me to get on the donor register. I don't see it as an ethical issue, I would be providing a much-needed resource, and my family recompensed for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Speaking as someone seriously ill, I can think of a lot I'd like the NHS to spend its money on rather than bribing organ donors' families. I'm signed up as an organ donor; I doubt that it's safe, as I have severe ME and am not allowed to donate blood (the transmissibility of ME still unknown), but the organ donation helpline told me that recipients are so desperate for organs they don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.


    Agreed on all points, but it was a chance I could not refuse to get a doctor's view when these forums often lack the more factual/technical view. Thank you for your replies.


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