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
    +2

    Comment number 334.

    I am registered as a donor and this decision won't affect my plans with this. However, my question is, if someone only joins to get his funeral costs paid and his organs are not good /something wrong happens in the transplant, won't this give the NHS/organ donation system a means to promise something but with terms to only pay when they want to? I think it should offer peace of mind to the donor.

  • rate this
    +5

    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
    +2

    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
    -10

    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
    +4

    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.

 

Comments 5 of 21

 

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