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.

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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 331.

    330 Couldn't agree more, mofro.
    I need a new card as mine's about 15 yrs old & disintegrating - so I'm all too aware donor cards aren't exactly as easily accessable as they might be.

    Also, people can carry a card but too often don't realise they also need to discuss it with their loved ones (next of kin).

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    I am an organ donor and used to be a blood donor. I do not like the idea of paying a donor anything, after all, the clue is in the name. What would be better would be to publicise it far more than it is at present. Have lots of large colourful posters in all hospitals, doctors surgeries and even shopping centres. I think that education is the key not offering to pay for a funeral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    I think choosing to be an organ donor after death is a very brave, truly altruistic decision - & for the persons family too.
    The way I look at it is, if you'd be inclined to be an organ recipient in the event of becoming seriously ill, or if your children did - then this works the other way round too & you should be prepared to become an organ donor. It's a personal decision but not so difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Add your comment...323.Adam
    "Selling a relitives organs ...Although I would be against the state harvesting peoples organs if it goes against the doners wishes as expressed before death."

    Is that not touching on the argument about euthanasia – being pressured into agreeing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    People should have to opt out if they do not wish to be donors. Paying funeral costs is a waste of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    #324 - check the time. We get lunch breaks occasionally in the NHS. Don't worry, I'm not wasting your tax. But you're right, I should get back to work. It's been a whole 15 minutes now.

    Why you on the net? Retired? Unemployed? Skiving?

    Just asking like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    i totally disagree with this purely as our NHS is on its backside already, without adding extra costs to a already expensive organ donor retreival situation. if should always be a persons choice to donate and i agree sadly enough many dont. personally i am on the list to donate. sadly we cant fix everyones situation thats the circle of life and death

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Deleted, comment 322, shouldn't you be working, rather than surfing the net....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.


    Selling a relitives organs is only the same as selling their other personal belongings after death. If people have no moral objection to it, the law should allow them to do it. Although I would be against the state harvesting peoples organs if it goes against the doners wishes as expressed before death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    A patient has just walked in to the GP surgery I'm currently working in and asked about organ donation, as she's seen something on the news about free funerals. Hooray 1 more donor. Shame she reeked of alcohol and has a history of alcohol/drug abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.


    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.

    (sorry to all those that keep getting this post, but I feel a need to point this out when asked)

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Is it only me who thinks the whole idea of cutting out a dead persons organs and putting it in someone else, is a little macabre? I think this whole business of making folks who don't want to donate feel guilty is underhand and just a little bit 'holier than thou'. I neither want to receive or give my organs and I'll not be pressured into changing my position, you have what you're given, that's it

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    To those complaining about costs of treatment; I understand it is cheaper for a patient to receive a donor organ than continue dyalisis for example. Also after transplant there is always the hope that not just one but several people can return to fulfilled, productive lives. A friend of mine was recently able to return to work following a corneal transplant; prior to that he was blind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    You have a fair point & I do not disagree with it - both moral panic & slippery slope! To see a measured and open comment is rewarding and makes discussion worth while - and informative.
    In truth, given your discussion I could (and would) do the same, family before self.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    "Free funeral, wahey! Where do I deposit my kidneys?"
    As if.
    The best way of getting more people to sign up for the organ donor register is surely to educate about the importance of doing this and what it will mean to the recipient, not to offer bribes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    I am not sure of your religion Adam but your ethics are suspect - you are suggesting making money from dead relatives!!
    Not being religious I am already an organ donor but if the state were to take the burden of paying for my funeral from my children at an obviously difficult time I would consider that a very nice thank you. Hopefully costs would be recouped by reduced treatment needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Why can we not have a situation of opt out and where only those who are donors are allowed to receive organs. I.e. you're free to be selfish and opt out but know that by leaving the system you lose the benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.


    I'm not disagreeing with you on that point, only adding that what was and is being asked of the NHS has changed over those same years. The phrase "cradle to the grave" I think now encompasses much more than initially invisioned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    Yes, I see the danger, its something of a slippery slope, but I also detect a large slice of moral panic. The key facts that make this viable for me are the sums of money involved, and the recipients. You're not rewarding the actual donor, youre just helping the family with a small but significant cost, at a very difficult time for them. It might seem simplistic, but thats how I see it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Population gets bigger, people live longer, organ supply running low. the problem will get worse as mortality rates of people under 18 goes up.

    I think it is time to seriously consider genetically engineering chimpanzees to grow organs.


Page 3 of 19


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