The week commencing the 18th of September 2023 is Organ Donation Week, a week of activity which shines a light on the generosity of donors and the incredible impact they have on transplant recipients. It’s an opportunity to educate, inform and inspire people.
In 2020 the law around organ donation changed to an opt-out system in many parts of the UK. Despite this, when you’re no longer able to give consent, your family will still be consulted if organ donation is a possibility with your circumstances. Making sure your loved ones know your wishes is crucial so they know what to do should the time come when your organs could help someone on the waiting list.
We’ll look at the new laws around organ donation in the UK, why it’s so important to share your wishes and some ideas on how to start this important conversation with your family.
What are the laws around organ donation?
Up until a few years ago, those wishing to donate their organs had to proactively register themselves as an organ donor. Named after an inspiring young girl Kiera who saved four lives when she tragically died aged 9, Max & Kiera’s Law changed organ donation in the UK to what’s known as an “opt-out” or deemed consent system. Under the new system, all adults in England who die will be considered organ donors unless they’ve recorded their decision not to be a donor.
This change doesn’t apply to the following groups:
- Children under the age of 16
- People lacking the mental capacity to understand the new law and register their preference
- UK residents who’ve been here less than 12 months
- People who are not resident in the UK voluntarily
- Those who have nominated someone else to make the decision on their behalf
The NHS website gives details on all of the laws around organ donation in the UK.
Why is it important to share your wishes?
Now that it has changed to an opt-out system, it might be tempting to avoid talking to your family about your wishes. Organ donation is always discussed with the family should donation be possible, so it’s important that your family know what you want. The NHS launched the ‘Leave Them Certain’ campaign, focusing on the importance of letting your family know your decision around organ donation so that when they’re asked about it, they know how to answer on your behalf.
Once end-of-life planning has begun, medical teams consult the individual’s family and can only go ahead with donation with their consent. If your family isn’t aware of your wish to be an organ donor, an important and rare opportunity to save lives may be missed. Not only this but it puts your family in a difficult position while already going through an emotional time, a situation that can be avoided by talking about what you want.
Preparing to talk about organ donation
Having that talk about organ donation can be daunting but making sure your loved ones know what you want, and you know what they want, can help give peace and clarity in what will be an incredibly difficult moment.
If you’re nervous about talking to your family about organ donation, doing a bit of research may help you communicate the impact of organ donation, answer any questions or concerns they may have and explain why it’s important to you.
How to start the conversation
- Use organ donation week – The coverage and increase in conversation about organ donation this week may well mean that it’s crossed your family’s mind already, making it a great moment to share your wishes.
- Use a social media post – Whether it was a personal post from a friend or a post from an organisation like NHS Organ Donation, it could be a good starting point to say “I saw something interesting today that made me think…”
- Use a news story – Similarly, finding a news story that touches on organ transplants can be a good way to work the topic into conversation.
Find out more about organ donation
The NHS organ donation website has everything you need to know about organ donation, from help with talking to loved ones to information about the life-changing difference organ donation makes to those on the waiting list. You can also register your decision online.