I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and a lot to be thankful for. Amongst the chaos that comes with having a sixteen year old daughter (the wrong clothes in the wardrobe, bad hair days, boys etc.), I have the added slams, thuds and moans about the fact she has to shield for her own protection during these unprecedented times. My daughter had a liver transplant at the age of 10. At the age of 9 she was placed on the transplant register and an agonising 6 months later was incredibly lucky to receive her ‘gift of life’.
Where I was on one end of the scale elated and thankful for this amazing chance for my daughter to thrive, there was a grieving and inconsolable family having to make the most difficult decision, at the most difficult time, as to whether to donate their loved ones organs to help others. Consoled only by the thought that, that decision made, would save the lives of many others who desperately needed a chance.
Making our future wishes known is never easy, but it is vital to providing some comfort to our loved ones advocating for us when we cannot choose for ourselves. The introduction of Max and Keira’s law came in on the 20th March 2020 in response to the need to move from an opt in scheme to an opt out scheme for organ donation.
This law now means that everyone over 18 will be considered as organ donors unless we decide to opt out. This law encourages us to have conversations with our loved ones so that we know what they would want to happen with their organs when they die. Being on the register is not mandatory and those that do not want to be, can opt out by registering on the Organ Donation Register. You cannot, however, opt out on behalf of somebody else.
The opt out system was introduced, as it was identified that other countries that followed this approach had the highest rates of organ donations and the shortest wait on transplant lists. All the major religions and belief systems also support the opt out system in the UK.
According to the NHS Blood and Transplant, there are currently 2,902 people waiting for an organ in the UK.
The organs that can be donated are the heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and small bowel but you can also donate tissues, the cornea and bone. Some people feel that because they have underlying medical conditions they cannot donate; however, this is not always the case, but it may limit what can be donated.
There are some exceptions to this, if someone has or is suspected to have; Active COVID-19, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, HIV, Active cancer or Ebola Virus they are unable to donate their organs when they die. However, if someone has previously had cancer but is no longer active, there is a possibility of donation of organs three years after treatment, this depends on the type of cancer.
As professionals in the Health and Social Care sector we have a duty to ensure that we advocate on behalf of those we support and care for. This role extends to supporting conversations about future care wishes and preferences when we can. Even if it to signpost to resources such as the NHS Blood and Transport – Organ Donation to aid informed decision making.
So in amongst the teenage angst and normality of day to day life, we have had the ‘conversation’ in our household and we carry on. However, not a day goes by without me being thankful for those that provide the ‘gift of life’ and the opportunities to support others even after death.